A group of autism advocates took to Capitol Hill Thursday morning pushing an ambitious new agenda to better serve adults on the spectrum.

In a series of policy recommendations, advocates from a consortium made up of a dozen organizations including Autism Speaks and Easter Seals highlighted the needs of adults with autism when it comes to learning life skills, accessing qualified support providers and obtaining funding that’s flexible.

Organizers of the advocacy effort known as Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism estimate that more than 500,000 individuals with the disorder will enter adulthood in the next 10 years. They are urging Congress to pass reforms within the next year to meet the needs they’ve identified.

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Specifically they’re looking for Congress to give adults with autism more access to public funding and greater choice in how such money is used for their benefit. They also want federal lawmakers to take up legislation to include social skills training within the special education curriculum, create incentives for developers to build housing that’s autism-friendly and expand employment supports, among several other issues.

What’s more, they’re pressing lawmakers to move forward with a previously proposed bill known as the ABLE Act. This legislation would allow Americans to establish tax-free savings accounts for people with disabilities much like those already in existence to help people save for college.

“We are not asking for a handout, but rather for the creation or expansion of programs that will maximize the potential of the growing number of people with autism and minimize, in the long run, the cost to society,” said Peter Bell, executive vice president of Autism Speaks and co-chair of Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism.

Ideas for the policy agenda came out of a national town hall meeting held last fall in Chicago. More than 1,200 people from across the country participated in the brainstorming session through several satellite locations.

Organizers said more than 250 people attended the Capitol Hill meeting Thursday including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., several Congressional staffers, representatives of federal agencies and members of the community.

While efforts this week are focused on federal policy leaders, Bell said that both public and private partners will be needed to address what he called “a scary future for adults with autism.”

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