Harrisburg, PA - The Department of Human Services (DHS) today highlighted the expansion of the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Program, a first-of-its-kind program in Philadelphia that connects an individual with autism to support from certified peer specialists. These peer specialists help foster individual connections and mentoring relationships for individuals on the autism spectrum to self-advocate and encourage greater wellness and independence in their community.
“We all know that life can be made a little easier when we can turn to a peer who has gone through what we’re going through and can speak to our experiences. But as we worked with self-advocates and caregivers, we realized that there was a gap in their system of supports that did not include peer connections. With CAPS, we are the first state in the country to work on closing that gap,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “I am incredibly excited that the CAPS Program provides this to people with autism and look forward to learning how we can continue to build out these supports.”
The CAPS Program was started by DHS five years ago as a collaboration between DHS’ offices of Developmental Programs (ODP) and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and Community Behavioral Health (CBH) and Mental Health Partnerships (MHP) in Philadelphia. The collaboration has since grown to include the Philadelphia Autism Project, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Autism Services Education Resources and Training (ASERT) Collaborative, and the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion.
The program was adapted from certified peer specialist programs that exist in the behavioral health field to support people on the autism spectrum. The CAPS program’s peer specialists provide individualized support to enhance participants’ quality of life, improve their self-advocacy skills, and further their community participation. These supports can include job training and help with interpersonal relationships to everyday skills, like teaching someone how to use public transportation.
To earn the peer specialist distinction, peer specialists take a 75-hour training course adapted for individuals with lived experience on the autism spectrum that addresses how to support youth, young adults, and adults on the spectrum.
“With this level of collaboration at the state and local level, Pennsylvania can be a world leader in supporting people on the autism spectrum,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “I hope that this program will be able to support even more people in the future and can become a model that we can replicate statewide and beyond.”
Only Philadelphia County residents are currently eligible to receive CAPS services; opportunities for expansion beyond Philadelphia are being explored. Individuals must be at least 14 years of age, have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and be eligible for Medicaid – the program has been approved by DHS as a Medicaid reimbursable service – or CBH insurance. Referrals for the CAPS Program are currently being accepted and interested participants can enroll here.
More information about the CAPS Program and becoming a certified peer specialist can be found here.
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