Home Life Community: Building a Future with Autism
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication as well as each person having distinct sets of strengths and challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States with 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls diagnosed. There is not one type of autism but many subtypes, and there is no definitive cause of autism. While research suggests that it could be a combination of genetic and environmental influences, there have been many recorded cases that contradict this hypothesis, leaving researchers essentially in the same place that they began.
Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues. Indicators of autismusually appear by age 2 or 3 with some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.
My younger brother was diagnosed with Autism at the age of four. He is a beacon of light in my life and I want nothing more than to be able to give him every chance to succeed in his future. I advocate raising awarenessand understanding of autism and the effects on those individuals who care for a person diagnosed with autism. Education, training, and support must be given to all those living with or involved with autism about the different aspects of autism (i.e., interventions, therapies, and approaches and understanding behavior). Most of all funds are needed for research into causes, preventions, and treatments.
The amount of adults with autism is a large demographic in our society, and raises questions as these numbers increase. What will happen to these adults when their families are no longer able to care for them? On whom will the responsibility fall? If they are cared for, will their health and happiness be prioritized? Will they be able to live social lives? Home Life Community aims to answer all these questions and concerns.
Home Life Community was founded by Dr. Jerry and Donna Kartzinel. Dr. Kartzinel is a board certified pediatrician with a focus on translational medicine, translating diverse scientific findings into therapeutic protocols and is also my brother’s pediatrician. Home Life Community would consist of common buildings that contain a cafeteria, gymnasium, outdoor pool, gathering areas, activity rooms, and barns for therapy animals. It would have 25 homes with 4 residents in each. Each residence will be structured like a regular home but will also have areas for 1-3 staff members to live with the residents. It would strive to integrate services with other community professionals to provide a variety of clinical and support services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Each resident would have a plan of services that is developed by a team that includes nurses, psychological associates, dieticians, dentists and with the individual’s family. These professionals would offer free clinical services. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.
Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill January 2019 that removes the age cap for autism coverage and increases access to health coverage. Senate Bill 1693, sponsored by Senator Jill Vogel will ensure anyone with autism will have access to health insurance. Current law only requires coverage be provided to individuals between ages two and ten. The legislation expands healthcare access for nearly 10,000 Virginians of all ages living with autism. The legislation will be effective beginning January 1, 2020.As Miss Virginia I will continue to advocate through fundraisers on behalf of Autism Speaks, working through the media and speaking with legislatures to continue raising awareness of the need for having a bright future for our adults with Autism.