The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) today marked Autism Awareness Month and its tenth anniversary by announcing a new collaboration to help make Illinois’ highways safer for those with autism spectrum disorders and other cognitive and physical differences. At a state Capitol news conference, TAP officials announced a partnership with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to make materials for that agency’s Yellow Dot program available at TAP centers across Illinois.
Launched in 2011 by IDOT in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department on Aging, the Yellow Dot program helps first responders (police, fire and ambulance personnel) identify vehicle occupants who might require extra assistance in the event of a roadside emergency. A yellow dot placed on the rear window of a vehicle alerts first responders to the presence of a medical data card stored in the vehicle’s glove compartment. The data card can contain personal information, emergency contact information, important medical data, a photo and other instructions to help emergency personnel respond appropriately in the event of an emergency.
“In an emergency, access to accurate information can be lifesaving,” said Tara Glavin-Javaid, chief of The Autism Program of Illinois. “For years, TAP has provided training to first responders on working effectively with persons who have an autism spectrum disorder. Yet, until the Yellow Dot program, there was no way for emergency personnel to accurately assess the need for special care when treating those involved in a roadside emergency. Participating in this program provides our centers with another tool to help preserve the safety of those with an autism spectrum disorder.” Marianne Hankins, IDOT’s coordinator of the Yellow Dot program was present. For more information, go to www.yellowdotillinois.org.
The TAP announcement came during Autism Awareness Month and just weeks after new data from the CDC revealed that current autism prevalence rates may be understated. Official CDC figures state that one in every 88 school-age children has some form of autism. Yet, according to Glavin-Javaid, more recent data from the CDC’s National Survey of Child Health indicate that the number could be as high as one in 50. “While these numbers are preliminary, they are indicative of the trends that our partners have seen across Illinois. If those numbers are borne out, it will mean that more than 52,000 school age children in Illinois have autism, rather than the 30,000 we would expect based on the one in 88 figure.”
Julie Alderman, director of the TAP center at The Hope Institute in Springfield, reported significant increases in demand for autism programming. “There are currently 55 Springfield area families on the waiting list for diagnostic services,” she said. “Demand for social skills training has doubled in the past year alone.” Alderman said that similar increases in unmet need were seen at most of TAP’s 18 centers across Illinois.
2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the TAP service network, a partnership of universities and nonprofit organizations led by The Hope Institute for Children and Families. According to Alderman, TAP partners have trained more than 61,000 families, caregivers, educators, health care professionals and first responders in the past ten years. Thousands of families received direct services from the network. TAP has grown to become the largest statewide autism resource and service network in the nation. “Each TAP partner is committed to doing its best to meet the need for services despite the state’s fiscal crisis,” she said. Funded through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services, TAP has experienced budget cuts in each of the last four fiscal years.
Each of the speakers at the news conference stressed that TAP funding must be a budget priority for the state fiscal year beginning July 1. “The evidence is clear,” said Ginny Conlee of Springfield, chair of The Hope Institute board of directors. “Early intervention can make a significant difference in the lives of children with autism. Early intervention is cost effective and helps reduce the need for more expensive services later in life. Further cuts to autism funding would significantly endanger the progress we have made identifying children with autism early in life and linking those children with appropriate services.”
Today’s news conference was one of many observations of Autism Awareness Month planned by TAP partners across Illinois. In Springfield, Secretary of State Jesse White has lit the Howlett Building purple in honor of TAP’s tenth anniversary. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum also installed commemorative lighting and held a special autism awareness event on Saturday April 6. A complete list of Autism Awareness Month events throughout Illinois can be found at http://www.theautismprogram.org/2013/03/autism-awareness-month-a-look-at-tap-events-around-illinois.