For people with autism spectrum disorder, turning 21 has long meant losing access to critical services.
But under a bill President Donald Trump recently signed into law, those services will remain within reach.
The five-year, $1.8 billion reauthorization of the CARES Act funds autism research and support programs, including for adults who would have previously aged out of the system.
The bipartisan bill’s author Sen. Bob Menendez met on Monday with participants at ECLC of New Jersey in Paramus, a program for individuals of all ages with special needs.
According to ECLC’s website, the program now serves more adults with disabilities than children.
“The federal government makes a commitment to individuals with autism and then all of a sudden all that investment goes off the boards,” said Menendez. “What’s the sense of making that commitment if, at that end of the day, you’re not going to help that individual fulfill their God-given potential?”
New Jersey has the highest autism rate in the nation; according to the CDC, one in every 34 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
But as more of those individuals get older, advocates like Mary Fay Narin say the new CARES Act is critical.
“The access it provides is major for not only me but all others across the spectrum — once we age out, once we are past 21 years old,” she said. “For me it’s just so crucial and it’s been so important for me. It’s improved my life and I want it to improve others.”
Through the CARES Act, Narin says she has been able to get job training, employment and help with the transition to independent living.
“Just because I’m older than 21 doesn’t mean that I don’t need services. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum — especially for me, I’m higher functioning — I still need my daily support system as well,” she said.
Narin says she plans to keep advocating and is working to create a social meetup group for other adults with autism.