SAN ANTONIO – Many local families often have difficulty getting access to basic autism services in Bexar County. A new institute at Texas A&M-San Antonio wants to reverse those trends.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 in 44 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the numbers are higher for Hispanic communities.
“One of our initiatives is to help with the assessment and the evaluation process,” said Sarah Minner, director of the Institute for Autism and Related Disorders at Texas A&M-San Antonio.
Minner was recently named the inaugural director of IARD, which she describes as a multi-faceted hub looking to help South Texans diagnosed with autism.
“To be able to house the research, to provide community services, to fill the gaps in the critical evaluation services and to the community,” said Minner.
According to Autism Lifeline Links (ALL), there are nearly 1,200 local families on a waitlist for a formal diagnostic assessment with many of these families living in south Bexar County.
These are the families that have signed with ALL, which is a coalition of agencies and organizations working together to provide quality services and resources for autism.
“We’re hoping to shorten the waitlist by providing direct services to students and for individuals in the community while also growing clinicians here on campus,” said Minner.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2021 projected there are 30,000 people diagnosed with autism living in San Antonio.
The average wait time for families to evaluate their children ranges from 1 year old to 18 months, during a critical developmental period.
There is also a lack of service providers south of downtown.
“There’s only less than two handfuls of ADA clinicians that live in this area, so there’s a definite need for professional staff that reside in the area. And for families who may have differing circumstances,” said Minner. “If you get children evaluated sooner and access to services sooner, they’re going to have greater long-term outcomes with regard to employment rates, being able to live on their own care for themselves.”
The institute is the first of its kind in South Texas and will include a free clinic for people living in the south Bexar County area. It will also feature a mobile bus unit that will go out directly to the community for assessments.
The institute will also help adults with autism who have aged out of the public school system.
“There is a need for long-term services and support. We’re talking about adults with disabilities who need funding for services such as wheelchairs, for day-rehabilitation programs,” said Minner. “I believe everybody can work to some capacity and get to fill a spot in the community and live their best lives. It really just means developing a community that’s well-equipped to service individuals with autism.”
Minner said removing barriers and giving access to families in parts of the county who need it most is the primary goal for the institute.
“The university is really grounded in equity and focuses on bringing resources to south Bexar County,” said Minner. “We can really change the lives of individuals with growing this institute.”