In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we sat down with Mike Civello from Rethink Benefits to learn more about what this means for you and how to support your employees.
Why is Autism Awareness Month important for employers to observe?
It is critical to understand all of the challenges that employees who are caring for a child with a developmental disability, such as autism, face to be able to support and address their needs – ultimately keeping them engaged in the workforce as opposed to reducing hours worked or opting out completely. Mothers of children with autism reduce the number of hours worked, pass up on job opportunities and pass up on promotions in order to care for their children. Now more than ever, employers need to join the conversation during Autism Awareness Month to put effective solutions in place.
What can employers do to support these parents?
Employers need to first size their population and understand all the challenges and needs before making a decision on benefit solutions. Claims data does not tell the complete story – many employees are reluctant to self-identify to their managers or administrators. The fear of being passed up for promotions, or simply the sensitivity about speaking to their employers about their child, creates significant anxiety for the employee. So we’ve found it is helpful for employers to organize focus groups with all types of parents to feel safe speaking freely about the challenges associated with caring for children in general. If there is a vocal group of employees who are not afraid to speak open about their child with autism, speak to this group individually and compare feedback responses to those from the larger population focus group.
As more employers shift to providing benefits around Autism and developmental disabilities support, who do you see leading the way?
Not to toot our own horn, but Rethink Benefits is paving the way for employers to finally offer a scalable and cost-effective solution that addresses the most underserved and vital components of caring and treating children with autism. Parent support and involvement are arguably the most impactful components of caring for a child with autism but are often overlooked due to time and resource constraints. With an ever increasing number of children diagnosed and a continued shortage of providers, leveraging technology and innovation is critical. Bringing clinical best practice treatment solutions into the home that all family members can easily adopt and implement is changing the way the industry is addressing the needs of this growing population.
Anything else we should know?
Employers need to broaden the conversation regarding benefits for families with developmental disabilities beyond offering Applied Behavior Analysis therapy coverage in their medical plans. While it’s a great place to start it isn’t enough, as it only addresses the treatment needs of the child and doesn’t take into consideration the multitude of issues the parents face everyday. Parents need simple-to-follow tools and a plan in their home to help coordinate care that every team member caring for the child can access. Even with a therapist in the home each week, most parents and caregivers often feel lost on nights and weekends when the therapist is not present. Parents also need support and training from behavior experts, to interact with other parents who have children with autism (or other development disabilities) and to learn how to effectively communicate with and teach their child basic skills and academics. Through technology and other resources, employers can holistically address the growing needs of this population, and by doing so will ultimately increase employee engagement, presentism and overall job satisfaction.