Health Team

Group homes help autistic adults interact with community

Posted April 6, 2012 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2012 7:39 p.m. EDT

As the number of children with autism rises in the United States, so does the number of autistic adults who need special care. 

Many of those adults end up in group homes, but the wait lists for those homes are growing, making it more difficult for families to find care for loved ones. 

Eden Autism Services, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that helps improve the lives of children and adults with autism, is just one program that offers housing for autistic adults. 

"We try to have people in living situations where they're with their peers, doing similar activities, have similar levels of functioning so they can communicate with each other and socialize with each other," Eden's Jamie Douglas said. 

Eden also helps autistic residents, like 49-year-old Michael Schwallie, find jobs in the community. Schwallie works part-time cleaning at a local movie theater and lives with six other autistic adults. They share responsibilities like helping with meals, doing laundry and keeping the house clean. 

Experts say working gives autistic adults a sense of purpose. 

"It's about being a productive member of society," Douglas said. "It's about being part of your community." 

A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention last week shows New Jersey's autism rate continues to be among the highest in the country. It's estimated that one in 59 children have autism in the state. 

The same study estimated that one child out of 88 nationally is believed to have autism or a related disorder, an increase in the rate largely attributed to wider screening. 

The new figure is from the latest in a series of studies that have steadily raised the government's autism estimate. This new number means autism is nearly twice as common as officials said it was only five years ago, and likely affects roughly 1 million U.S. children and teens.

The CDC study is considered the most comprehensive U.S. investigation of autism prevalence to date. Researchers gathered data from areas in 14 states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.