HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Peer Support Program is expanding its program for individuals on the autism spectrum. The Department of Human Services (DHS) announced on Wednesday, June 2, the expansion of the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) program, which is a first-of-its-kind program in Philadelphia that connects an individual with autism to support from a certified peer specialist.
The DHS formed the CAPS program five years ago as a collaboration between the Developmental Programs and the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Partnerships in Philadelphia. Since then, the collaboration has grown to include Philadelphia’s Autism Project, Department of Behavioral Health, the Intellectual disAbility Services, the Autism Services Education Resources and Training, and Temple University’s Collaborative on Community Inclusion.
“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,” Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead said.
According to Snead, with CAPS, Pennsylvania is the first state in the county to provide the CAPS program to people with autism, and with it, look for and learn how more support systems can be built.
The CAPS program’s peer specialists provide support to enhance participants’ quality of life, improve their self-advocacy skills and help them find ways to engage with the community. Peer specialists must take a 75-hour training course adapted for individuals with lived experience on the autism 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,” Snead said.
Currently, Philadelphia County residents are eligible to receive CAPS service with hopes for expansion beyond the county, individuals must be at least 14 years of age and be eligible for Medicaid.
“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,” Snead said.