Autism Services in North Carolina

Discover top autism services in North Carolina, breaking barriers and embracing potential for your child.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 29, 2024
7 min read
min read

Understanding Autism in North Carolina

In order to fully comprehend the landscape of autism services in North Carolina, it's helpful to first understand the prevalence of autism in the state and the factors that may influence these rates.

Prevalence of Autism

As of 2023, North Carolina has the fourth-highest prevalence of autism in the United States, with approximately 1 in 57 children identified as having autism. This prevalence has seen an increase over the years, as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reported that the prevalence of autism among 8-year-old children in the state increased from 1 in 125 in 2002 to 1 in 59 in 2018.

Year Prevalence of Autism in NC
2002 1 in 125
2018 1 in 59
2023 1 in 57

Factors Influencing Autism Rates

The exact cause of North Carolina's high prevalence of autism is unknown, but there are several factors that are considered to potentially influence these rates. One such factor is population demographics, as research has shown that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and North Carolina has a higher proportion of male children than many other states.

Another potential influencing factor is genetics. Some families have a pattern of autism or related disabilities, which suggests there may be a genetic basis to the disorder. However, no single gene has been directly linked to autism.

Environmental factors, such as air pollution or exposure to toxins, are also areas of ongoing research. While no conclusive evidence has been found to link these factors to autism, they are areas of concern and ongoing study.

Lastly, access to healthcare and diagnostic services can play a role in autism prevalence rates. It's possible that areas with better access to these services may have higher reported rates of autism simply because more children are being diagnosed.

Understanding the prevalence of autism and the factors that potentially influence these rates is an important part of understanding the broader picture of autism services in North Carolina. As parents navigate this landscape, this information can provide valuable context and insight.

Autism Services in the State

North Carolina offers an array of services to support individuals with autism and their families. The state is home to several organizations and programs dedicated to providing education, advocacy, and direct services to those affected by autism.

Autism Society of North Carolina

Founded in 1970 by parents seeking to improve services for their children, the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) has grown to become the oldest and largest autism support organization in North Carolina. It serves over 6,000 people annually, operating with a staff of over 500 employees.

ASNC offers a wide range of services including diagnostic evaluations, education support, job training, residential services, and family support programs. These services are designed to enhance the quality of life of individuals on the autism spectrum and provide them with the necessary skills and resources to thrive.

State Government Programs

The government of North Carolina, through the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services, provides services geared towards people who have autism. These services aim to support the health and well-being of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.

TEACCH Autism Program

The UNC TEACCH Autism Program is another key provider of autism services in North Carolina. Established in 1972 by Dr. Eric Schopler, the program supports children with autism and their families through evidence-based assessment, treatment, and intervention services [4].

The North Carolina Autism Program (NCAP) provides diagnostic evaluations, brief treatment consultations, and parent education for children with autism. Services are offered at every age, skill, and functioning level, ensuring that all individuals with autism receive the support they need [4].

In addition, the UNC TEACCH Autism Program offers training and consultation services for families and professionals who support individuals with autism. These services aim to promote understanding and effective strategies for living with autism [4].

Autism Insurance Coverage in North Carolina

Understanding the insurance coverage options available in North Carolina can help parents navigate the financial aspects of obtaining autism services for their children. Coverage may be accessed through private insurance plans, Medicaid, and the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees. The coverage includes services such as diagnosis, therapy, and habilitative services [3].

Private Insurance Coverage

In North Carolina, "Tyler's Law," passed in July 2011, mandates autism insurance coverage for state employees' dependents. This legislation represents a significant step forward in ensuring that families have access to the necessary services and supports for their children with autism [3].

Medicaid and Innovations Waiver

The Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) in North Carolina is a public payor program that covers a variety of services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a condition that affects communication, interaction, and behavior. Medicaid offers a similar service package through the Innovations Waiver.

The Innovations Waiver is a program that provides home and community-based services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including ASD. To access these services, an individual must have an ASD diagnosis and meet functional eligibility criteria for receiving services at the intermediate-care facility level for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ICF-IID) [5].

Community Alternatives Program for Children

Moreover, North Carolina offers the Community Alternatives Program for Children (CAP/C) waiver. This program serves children who require a nursing facility level of care but can safely live outside of a facility with the support of family and community services. The CAP/C waiver is designed for individuals under the age of 21 who meet the Nursing Facility level of care and financial criteria. Individuals with ASD may qualify for this program [5].

By understanding these insurance options, parents of children with autism can make informed decisions about the best way to secure the necessary autism services in North Carolina. Accessing these services can play a significant role in supporting the growth, development, and overall wellbeing of children on the autism spectrum.

Overcoming Barriers to Autism Services

Even with the availability of various autism services in North Carolina, there are still several barriers that families and individuals face, especially those residing in rural areas. These challenges are influenced by cultural attitudes, geographical location, and policies related to autism services.

Challenges in Rural Areas

In rural communities, including the South-Central Appalachian region, the availability and affordability of autism services pose a significant challenge. According to the Journal of Appalachian Health, there is a shortage of providers trained in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), making it difficult for families to access and afford the necessary services.

Further, caregivers of children with ASD in southwest Virginia reported challenges due to a limited number of providers, lack of ASD-specific training, geographic isolation, and affordability. They emphasized the need for more ASD-trained providers, better coordination and navigation of services, and programs to assist with family financial and emotional stressors.

Cultural Considerations

Cultural attitudes also play a significant role in accessing autism services. Mistrust of outside professionals and a strong sense of autonomy may prevent families in the Appalachian region from fully engaging in treatment for autism. It's crucial for providers to build rapport and show cultural sensitivity to overcome these barriers.

Policy Recommendations to Improve Access

To address these disparities in ASD services, greater policy attention is needed, particularly in rural settings. Early identification and intervention for autism improve prognosis and reduce economic burden. However, multiple barriers to early identification and intervention exist.

Specific policy recommendations from the Journal of Appalachian Health include:

  • Provider incentives: Encourage more professionals to specialize in ASD treatment.
  • Insurance coverage: Ensure that evidence-based treatments are covered by insurance.
  • Telehealth services: Use technology to reach isolated areas.
  • Integration of autism services into existing systems: Make it easier for families to navigate services.
  • Multicultural sensitivity training for providers: Improve provider understanding of cultural attitudes and beliefs.

These recommendations aim to enhance the reach of autism services in North Carolina, ensuring that all individuals with ASD, regardless of their location or cultural background, receive the necessary support and care.

Parental Support and Resources

Navigating the world of autism can be challenging for parents. However, various resources and support programs are available in North Carolina to assist parents in this journey.

Autism Society Support Programs

The Autism Society of North Carolina offers a broad range of services that provide direct care and support to individuals with autism and their families. These services include residential programs, respite care, summer camps, and social groups serving all ages.

Additionally, advocacy, training, educational programs, and supports are also tailored to help individuals with autism and their families navigate the complex world of autism services in North Carolina. The Autism Society serves more than 65,000 people with autism spectrum disorder since 1949.

Navigating Autism Services

Finding and accessing the right resources for a child with autism can be a daunting task for parents. However, the Autism Society of North Carolina has a network of offices across the state to provide support and resources to individuals and families affected by autism. These offices can help parents understand the various autism services available in North Carolina and guide them in accessing the services that best suit their child's needs.

Online Resources and Emergency Hotlines

Alongside its physical services, the Autism Society of North Carolina also offers online resources and a 24/7 emergency hotline. These resources provide immediate assistance to families dealing with autism-related emergencies. Additionally, they offer opportunities for parents to connect with other families in similar situations, fostering a community of support and shared experiences.

In conclusion, while the journey may be challenging, parents of children with autism can find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. With the support of organizations like the Autism Society of North Carolina and the wealth of resources available online, parents can confidently navigate the world of autism services.







steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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