NEWINGTON - U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy left Autism Families CONNECTicut last Sunday with new insight into the lives of people affected by the disorder.
The organization hosted the senator at its North Mountain Road facility for a roundtable discussion in honor of National Autism Awareness Month, about improving the way the state and nation handle issues surrounding autism. Transportation, housing, education and health care emerged to the forefront as crucial to the community.
Autism Families CON-NECTicut serves hundreds of families from across the region with programming for children and young adults on the spectrum. Founder and board President Leah Moon listened as people shared their stories with Murphy.
“We’re so pleased he took the time to be here to listen to all the challenges our families deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “From health care to education to jobs, it really runs a huge continuum.”
Murphy, D-Conn., who has advocated for the autism community since his early days in the legislature, told the group that recent tax cuts could mean fewer resources for agencies and families affected by autism.
“We spent $1.5 trillion giving tax cuts to big corporations. What if we spent a fraction of that on the kids and adults we’re talking about? It would make a world of difference,” he pointed out. “It’s a question of values. There’s nothing stopping this country from making a decision to take care of people on the spectrum.”
Autism Services & Resources Connecticut Executive Director Leslie Simoes said the state should have a department to work with the growing community of autism families.
“It all boils down to a gaping hole we have in our state,” she said, addressing the fact that services are only available to mentally disabled people with an IQ of 69 or below.
Those with autism spectrum disorder often have IQ scores above 70, higher than their intellectually disabled peers,” Simoes said. “While there is a waiting list for state assistance as it is, many people who need it aren’t even eligible. Adults who are autistic are not taken care of.”
State Rep. Gary Byron, R-Newington, discussed a bill he proposed to examine the transportation needs of the mentally disabled, along with veterans and seniors.
“Specifically pertaining to non-ambulatory transportation that goes beyond the borders of town lines,” Byron explained. “They’re often overlooked and part of what I believe is a big role of government is to protect those who can’t help themselves.”
In some other parts of the country, governments pay for public transportation for those with qualified disabilities.
“There are hundreds of thousands of CT residents who can’t work because they can’t afford car payments,” Murphy said. “They can’t have jobs because they can’t get to them.”
Middletown resident Steve Cappiello advocated for schools allowing students with special needs to carry GPS tracking devices to monitor their location and allow parents to listen in on their interactions with others.
“We shouldn’t have to fight for something as simple as this to keep our children alive,” he said.
Wethersfield resident Sharon Silbo shared her struggle to find reasonable living arrangements for her adult son, who is autistic.
“I would love to build a tiny home for my son in my backyard,” she said. “It’s my property, but the zoning laws won’t allow it.”
There are few group homes for people on the spectrum in Connecticut, while some other states offer special facilities where people can live and work together.
“It’s going to cost more for us as citizens to institutionalize these individuals rather than build them a house where they can live and contribute to our community,” Murphy said.
“It’s refreshing for me to hear from you,” he told the group before leaving. “Accept this as an invitation to keep this conversation going.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or email@example.com.