Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain's development of communication and social skills.
The exact causes remain unknown, but this is a very active area of research.
Autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It is characterized by impaired social interaction, communication problems and unusual, repetitive behaviors. The spectrum of behaviors and deficits varies greatly from person to person. We have only begun to witness the social and economic repercussions of the disorder, to say nothing of the extraordinary impact a child with autism has on their families.
How Common is It?
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the country.
- It is a developmental disability that now affects 1 in every 88 children in the United States.
- The Department of Developmental Services in California serves almost 50,000 autistic individuals alone . . . .a figure that is growing by 5,000 annually.
- At its current rate, projections are that this number will mushroom to 70,000 by 2012.
- Further still, the annual incidence of autism is increasing by more than 14% annually.
- Perhaps the most profound implications of this phenomenon will stem from the fact than nearly 85% of the autistic population is under the age of 22.
The Spectrum of Autism
More than 80,000 adults across the nation are on waiting lists for residential facilities geared specifically to autism. Even more alarming is that many families with children with autism who are in their early 20s often discover that there are no openings in residential programs and wait lists as long as 8 to 10 years.
While many programs with available space may mix autistic individuals with those with other developmental disabilities, Sweetwater focuses on building community among people with autism.
Sweetwater sees only limited preparation underway for a continuum of choices for children with autism at the time they become adults with autism. It is a community problem of extraordinary magnitude, and we expect to help, by providing a model, replicating it, and sharing what we have learned.
What is Being Done?
Public awareness of autism and the phenomenal spread of the disorder have spurred a search for answers. The California State Senate has even convened a Select Committee on Autism, but the response is mostly focused on research and education. Little preparation is underway for the needs of children with autism as they grow into adulthood. There are few models of care for adults with autism available today, much less for the inevitable wave of children aging into adulthood. They will demand quality support. Current alternatives largely fail to address the fact that adults with autism and opportunity can, and should, lead productive, fulfilling lives.
The existing models, large scale institutions, farming communities, and single group or supported living homes, do their best to create safe environments but may further isolate those with autism. Even fewer programs are organized to address the behavioral, sensory and communication challenges of residents.
Sweetwater Spectrum proposes to address both the gaps in present services and provide a viable model for others to follow.