What the Autism Community Needs From You

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused


By Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA

In the 17 years I have worked in the field of autism, I have witnessed an increase in the awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as growth in the number of services and resources available for those on the spectrum.

Awareness has spread due to increased rates of diagnosis. In the year 2000, one in every 150 children was diagnosed with autism; today that number is one in 54. Most people know someone with autism or someone who has a family member with autism.

Although scientists have not yet determined one specific cause of autism, it is believed to have a genetic basis. Current research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. Thankfully, the media is doing a better job of reinforcing the well-established fact that vaccines do NOT cause autism.

Services and resources have increased greatly for people in need of treatment for ASD. There has been significant growth in the number of agencies providing applied behavior analysis (ABA) services, the only treatment approach with a significant body of empirical support documenting effectiveness (National Standards Project, Phase 2). And many insurance companies now cover ABA services.

School districts have created and strengthened their early childhood programs. Elementary schools have improved their ability to provide children with autism the individualized programming they need. In my experience, services for children from toddlers to young adolescents are starting to blossom, which is a great accomplishment for the autism community.

We have come a long way and there is much to celebrate, but we still have a long way to go. What do we still need, and how can local communities help?

We need growth in community inclusion! Let’s remember that young children with autism grow into young adults with autism. The need for inclusion does not stop after high school - it is a lifetime goal for everyone.

From a young age we are asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up? What are you going to do for work?” Those are difficult questions for individuals with autism to answer. Not because of deficits in communication, but because of limited opportunities in their surrounding communities. For someone with developmental disabilities, finding vocational opportunities can be difficult.

We need places of employment to allow people with autism and other developmental disabilities to showcase their talents. For example, a young man I know was given an opportunity to work in a pizza shop, folding boxes and assisting with cleaning. As the manager got to know him better, he realized the young man had an amazing ability to pay very close attention to detail, especially with words and numbers. In the past, this manager had never allowed his employees to conduct inventory when deliveries arrived because of their history of making errors. However, he took a chance with his newest employee because of this young man’s strong skill set, and he was delighted with the results.

Opportunities like this are difficult to come by within large corporations because they have too much red tape and “high standards.” Those of us who work with individuals with disabilities are not asking work places to “lower their bars.” We are asking for them to widen their doors. Make the accommodations necessary to hire individuals with disabilities and give them a chance to showcase their skills.

We in the developmental disability community are calling on our local communities and asking you to take a chance! We need community inclusion for all. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses – that’s what helps make a team. Everyone deserves a chance of working towards his or her dream job.

Erica Kearney M.A., LABA, BCBA, is the Executive Director of the May Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit