Getting a Start
Today’s Autism Delaware is an independent, Delaware-founded nonprofit organization. It is the merger of two organizations, both started by parents who shared the common experience of autism. The Autism Society of Delaware formed in New Castle county in 1998. The Lower Delaware Autism Foundation began in Sussex county in 2001. In 2010 the two organizations came together to become one, strong, statewide organization.
Delaware public school students with autism in 2000
public school students with autism in 2017
Autism Delaware has Grown Significantly in Order to Address the Growing Needs in our Community
Autism Delaware staff members in 2002
Organizational Budget in 2001 ($)
Autism Delaware staff members in 2018
Organizational budget in 2018 ($)
Family contacts made by Autism Delaware family navigators in 2017, compared to 556 in 2011
The POW&R to Work
In 2005 Autism Delaware completed a national study that examined best practices in adult vocational services. The organization took the most effective elements of what it found in services around the country, combined it with Delaware’s adult service system and created a completely person-centered, absolutely community-based adult vocational program called POW&R, or Productive Opportunities for Work and Recreation.
In 2010 SEDL named POW&R an effective program for adults with autism — one of only 3 in the country at that time! A 2016 evaluation conducted by Dr. George Tilson and Dr. Teresa Grossi noted the passion and persistence for success that are the hallmarks of the program, along with the dedication of staff and the commitment of families and the Board.
Number of POW&R participants today
Number of businesses partnering with POW&R throughout Delaware
20 Years of Impact – A History
A lot has happened in 20 years at Autism Delaware. Here are a few highlights…
The Early Years
1998 – The Autism Society of Delaware was founded in New Castle county and parent support groups began.
1999 – The organization started an annual calendar of social/recreational events, the first auction for autism was held and, thanks to a grant from the Delaware DD Council, The Sun started publication as a family newsletter.
2001- The Lower Delaware Autism Foundation was founded by 17 families in Sussex county; the Gray Memorial Scholarship began to support University of Delaware students pursuing degrees related to autism.
2001- Support begins for the Organization for Autism Research in order to help their efforts in applied research in autism.
2002- The northern organization hired its first executive director; in Sussex county the first Autism Ball event was a resounding success.
2003- The southern organization hired its first executive director, a new parent packet was developed and offered as an important resource that is still critical today and the first Smart Cookie Day brought autism advocates to Legislative Hall in Dover.
2005- A national study on best practices in adult vocational services was completed and the planning to open what would become POW&R adult vocational services began.
2007- The first Walk for Autism was held.
Merging North and South
2008- With the advent of POW&R adult vocational services the organization began to expand more quickly. The northern organization decided to leave the Autism Society of America and rebrand as Autism Delaware. At the same time the Lower Delaware Autism Foundation held its first “Most at the Coast” conference.
2009- POW&R already had 23 participants and work began statewide on changing the laws regarding insurance coverage of autism therapies in Delaware.
2010- The Lower Delaware Autism Foundation and Autism Delaware merged under the name Autism Delaware to become a single, strong, statewide entity. The combined organization had 26 staff members under the leadership of Executive Director Theda Ellis.
Expansion and Statewide Impact
2011- Autism Delaware’s statewide parent mentors recorded 556 parent contacts and the combined organization opened up new office space in Milton, DE.
2012- After years of advocacy, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed legislation that requires Delaware insurance companies to provide coverage for applied behavior analysis-based therapies.
2012- POW&R became available in all three Delaware counties.
2013- Thanks to the support of Dover Downs, an office space opened in Dover and the southern Delaware office moved to a larger location in Lewes.
2013- The Blueprint for Collective Action is launched — a statewide strategic plan for autism services created by a partnership of state and private organizations, including Autism Delaware, and led by the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies.
2015 – POW&R had 115 participants statewide and the family support parent mentor team fielded 1,450 parent contacts.
2016- After strong advocacy from families around the state, and the support of Delaware legislators including Senator Margaret Rose Henry and Representative Earl Jaques, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 93 to create the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism — a resource center aimed at providing training for those serving individuals and families with autism. The Center represents a strong partnership between Autism Delaware, the University of Delaware, The Delaware Department of Education and many other state agencies and nonprofits.
Advocacy that Makes a Difference
Although today’s Autism Delaware offers vocational services, family navigation, social opportunities and much more, at our heart we have always been an advocacy organization, working to get the word out about the needs of individuals and families with autism, to create strong laws in support of our community, and to connect families with the resources they need.
From the passage of Delaware’s autism insurance mandate in 2012, to the passage of Senate Bill 93 in 2016 (creating the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism), and The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law (HB292) in 2018, our advocacy has always depended upon the knowledge and passion of parents and individuals with autism.
Smart Cookie Day — a special day created specifically to connect Delaware families with autism with their legislators in Dover — started in 2003 and is still going strong today.
Visit our Advocacy page to read more!