Endowment for UW Tacoma hopes to help adults with autism

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TACOMA - There are several programs available for kids with autism while they’re in school. However, when they reach adulthood, those services, in many cases, are no longer available.

That's why an endowment given to the University of Washington - Tacoma is so important.  It hopes to fill those gaps in providing help for adults with autism and their caregivers.

For Meridith Hatch of Gig Harbor, the love for her son Joe is unwavering.

“I love him, so of course I’m completely committed to helping him to be successful,” said Hatch.

Joe is currently 20 and has autism. When he was in school, he had all the resources and services available to him and his parents, things like group sessions or therapy, for example. A lot of it is covered under insurance until the age of 21. But it’s when Joe turns 21 in June that has his mom a bit nervous.

“I’m concerned,” she said.  “I am concerned because we just now identified additional needs as an adult with autism that I didn’t see when he was in high school.”

The problem is a lack of resources  and services available for adults with autism. Dr. Patricia Matestic, director of the UW Autism Center in Tacoma, works to fill those gaps, for now.

“So a need like speech and language therapy would continue throughout life. But sometimes insurance providers will say, you’re not a young child anymore; you don’t need to work on your speech,” Matestic said.

As for Joe's mom Meredith, she’s preparing for what’s next.

“I did not foresee that we would need to stay as involved. I thought getting over that 3.0 graduation GPA hurdle would be it,” said Hatch.

A $1 million donation by the Simon Family Endowment toward the University of Washington-Tacoma hopes to change that.

“Which will train practitioners, hopefully to learn more about autism, and how to support people with autism and two specifically to work with adults,” said Matestic.

The endowment would also go toward providing scholarships to support UW-Tacoma students with autism or other intellectual disabilities. And provide much needed programs for work skills, social skills, or other skills to help adults with autism live productive and independent lives.

“We feel like it really sheds light on the need for services for the adult population in the autism community,” said Hatch.

Dr. Matestic agrees.

“We need to find a better way to connect with autistic adults and to support them, and include them,” she said.

UW officials said they hope to double the endowment, which could be a national model on serving autistic adults.

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