The Status of Autism Delaware’s Programs and Services
A Message From Brian Hall, Executive Director, Autism Delaware
Published: April 11, 2022 by: Autism Delaware
Autism Delaware has not discontinued all programming — we are facing significant challenges to some of our services and we have placed indoor, in-person events on pause during the pandemic out of concern for the safety of our community. But we are still serving people and families affected by autism across the First State every day and have been throughout the pandemic.
Our first priority, from the start of the pandemic to today, is to provide the best family support and adult services that we can. To achieve that goal, our dedicated staff in family support went above and beyond to learn to use telehealth tools and implement virtual support services. Our heroic direct service professionals undertook a training program to help businesses and participants understand how to use COVID-19 safety protocols in the workplace to protect themselves from infection.
And their efforts have paid off. Our Family Support program has offered services without interruption since the pandemic started, and staff members have been able to expand services in the last year — they remain open for new contacts and referrals! While our adult service programs lost many staff members to The Great Resignation and many community partners to business closures, the program has still been able to maintain outstanding support for their current roster of participants but in reduced levels across the state. However, we don’t have enough personnel to service everyone on are vocational and supportive living rosters. We are doing all we can to attract vocational service personnel, including raising hourly wages and providing signing bonuses.
Our struggles are no different than those of other service providers in our nation and across our state. In fact, personnel challenges faced by Delaware service providers is so significant and widespread that the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDDS) has documented the issue.
We want to get back to better than normal. I am so proud of every staff member who continues to give it their all for the individuals and families in care. But, these days we are frequently saying no or asking families to be patient with us. This is so hard for us! I don’t have the answers … I don’t know when we will offer the array activities that have been offered in the past, like camps, ballgames and train rides. But we know, community activities are important for all members of the family. The last couple of years, COVID has presented a danger to participants in all of our programs. And our reintroduction of some of our programming has been slow and cautious for the very same reasons and others.
Please understand, COVID-19 has been a significant challenge not only to people and families affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but also to our staff members. Like you, our existing staff faced a sudden shutdown, having to jerry-rig safety measures while keeping their homes running as smoothly as possible and many found themselves struggling with issues like childcare and supporting their children with virtual schooling.
Given that the trend in COVID infections seems to be holding at a low level, politically inspired voices are claiming that restrictions are no longer necessary. But we at Autism Delaware follow the science and will remain cautious as opportunities for community engagement begin to increase. Once we put best practice in place, we will feel confident in our ability to maintain health and safety for our clients and, in turn, our staff. We need staff! And then we hope to adequately staff all programs and services so that we can begin to increase social recreational opportunities and events for all. Until that day comes, we will continue to offer virtual options when necessary, such as our “Parent to Parent” workshops beginning late April.
Please be assured: We are working on it and will let you know as soon as we’re able to begin returning to familiar services.
The financial challenges in recruiting qualified personnel is why supporting the full funding of the McNesby Act is so important to all providers in Delaware.