Diagnosing adult autism costs between $2,000 and $4,000 and is not covered by B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. From age six, people with autism experience a sharp decline in government support until age 19, when most funding dries up.
Iris Gray was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome around her 35th birthday. She was relieved.
She suspected she sat somewhere on the autism spectrum but was told, for many reasons, that it just wasn’t possible. Gray was too intelligent. She was a girl. And by 19, she was too old.
“Help diminishes after age six, and even more after school is over. Some universities, like our own University of Victoria, have services for autistic people, but for those who aren’t able to go to university, help just ends,” she said.
“Children show the most benefit from autism treatment and the funding and policy aligns with this,” confirmed Andrew Pinfold, director of operations for Autism BC.
Under the current system, children under six can receive $22,000 a year toward therapy. Government funding for those over six is capped at $6,000.
Funding after age 6 is diverted to the school district who receives $18,850 for every student with autism, stated the B.C. Ministry of Health website.
A representative from the B.C. government advised that funding for adults is available through Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
The current system is not of much help to Gray, who has independently built networks in the absence of government support.
“The best thing I ever did for my autism was actually done before I knew I was autistic,” she said. “I went to the Bridges for Women Society back in the early 1990s, where I learned life skills and communication skills. I belong to a few autism peer-support groups on Facebook and I now organize an in-person, peer-support group of my own in Victoria.”
She currently works full-time as a transcriber, using her fastidious nature – commonly associated with Asperger’s – to her advantage.
Meanwhile, Pinfold remains hopeful about the future for adults with autism.
“We are certainly talking to government about considering extending therapy to align with other programs, but it’s early days,” he said. “As children age out of care, they can access Community Living BC, job training, community.”
That is, if they were already diagnosed as a child, he added. “The reality is, once you turn 19, there’s no money for therapy. Then you’re kind of on your own for treatment.”
For those without funding, Gray suggests sourcing a specialist that charges less.
“There’s also the possibility of accepting a self-diagnosis as valid,” she said.