If you are planning to move to North Carolina, welcome! We hope you will find it to be a pleasant place for you and your family to live.
The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) has Autism Resource Specialists and a Hispanic Affairs Liaison who are here to help make your transition as smooth as possible. These advocates assist families in all 100 North Carolina counties. You can find their contact information here: www.autismsociety-nc.org/ARS.
In addition, ASNC sponsors over 60 local Support Groups across North Carolina. Support Groups are run by parent or family member volunteers who join together with other concerned individuals to create welcoming and inclusive local communities of support for families of children and adults with autism. ASNC Support Groups are open to anyone interested in the welfare of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. You can find contact information here: www.autismsociety-nc.org/supportgroups.
Factors to Consider Before Moving
Relocating to a new state is always a big decision, especially when you have a loved one with ASD. Numerous factors must be weighed to find the best situation for the family member with autism, as well as for the rest of the family. Some of these factors include the support of extended family, employment, education, access to health care, recreational opportunities, support, services, community acceptance, and quality of life. These things can vary considerably from one town to the next, and it is important to realize that there is no one “perfect” place to live. The best community in North Carolina for your family will depend on your specific situation, as well as the particular needs of your loved one with ASD.
It is important to understand that the level of services for autism vary widely from state to state. Within states, services and supports may also be quite different from one region to another. The ideal place to live is a very subjective matter, so the more information you can gather before making a decision, the more likely you are to be happy with the outcome. It is best to review information from a number of different sources, parents and schools in the towns you are considering.
The Autism Society of North Carolina is not able to recommend one particular community in North Carolina over another; however, you can contact one of our Autism Resource Specialists to learn more about the resources available in each region.
This is a look at some of the critical considerations when you are planning to relocate with a family member with ASD. Remember that Autism Resource Specialists and local Chapters are also available to answer any specific questions you may have.
Public Schools: Visit the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website at www.ncpublicschools.org to find information about public education in North Carolina. For official information on each school district and individual schools, including class sizes, test results, teachers, and more, visit abcs.ncpublicschools.org/abcs or www.ncreportcards.org/src. For information about the exceptional children’s program at a specific school, contact the school district’s EC director or the person in charge of special education at that school; find DPI’s directory here: https://ec.ncpublicschools.gov/directory.
Special Education/EC Services: The federal law IDEA mandates a “free and appropriate” public education for all students with a disability ages 3–22. However, having a disability such as autism does not automatically make a student eligible for special education services. In other words, a public education is an entitlement, but special education is not, unless the student is found to have a disability that affects his or her education (functionally or academically). It is also important to know that special education services are very different from one state to the next. Before deciding to move, it is advisable to compare the services your child currently receives at school to those he or she would likely receive in North Carolina.
Training and Information: The Autism Society of North Carolina provides training and information related to education for parents, professionals, and community agencies.
- Workshops: autismsociety-nc.org/autism-workshops
- Webinars: autismsociety-nc.org/autism-webinars
- Toolkits: autismsociety-nc.org/toolkits
In addition, every state maintains a federally funded parent training and information center for educational advocacy. North Carolina’s is called the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC). The center provides training and information and a free lending library of books about education and disabilities.
Private Schools: A few schools in North Carolina specialize in teaching children with autism. You can search for them in our online resource directory: www.autismsociety-nc.org/resource-directory or contact one of our Autism Resource Specialists for more information.
Residential Schools: There are no residential schools for children with ASD in North Carolina. Parents seeking residential schools may learn more through the National Association of Private Special Education Centers, which offers an online directory at www.napsec.org/geographical-listing.html.
Tips on Finding a School
The Autism Society of North Carolina is unable to endorse one school system or school over another. Each child with autism has different needs and strengths, so your experience may differ from another family’s. Here are some steps to help determine which school is likely to be a good fit for your child:
- Start by researching school districts online to gather basic Each school will also maintain its own website. Keep in mind that the needs of students with autism are unique, and finding the best situation will take more than looking at official rankings and test scores. Reputation and rankings are only part of the equation.
- Contact schools you are Pay careful attention to the type of responses you receive from educators, administrators, and other professionals. Schools in North Carolina tend to have their own identities, and the culture comes from the staff, especially the administrators. Communication and flexibility are key traits to look for.
- Speak to parents who live in the school district. They will be the ones who are able to provide a perspective about the culture and quality of special education services. The local ASNC Chapters are a terrific resource for connecting with parents, either in person at events or online.
- Visit potential schools if at all possible. Speaking with staff and visiting classrooms will give you a good sense of what the school is like. However, be aware that not every school will allow you to visit special education classes during school hours because of how they may interpret privacy laws. Speak to the EC director at each school about your child’s current IEP and special education services to find out whether services at the new school would likely be comparable. Some families have found that they have better access to services such as ABA therapy and one-to-one aides in their current situation than they might in North
Health Insurance/Medicaid Waivers
Autism Health Insurance Mandate: In North Carolina, research-based autism treatments such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) must be covered under certain health insurance plans for dependents up to age 18. For more information about which plans are subject to the law, please see the Accessing Services page of our website: www.autismsociety-nc.org/accessing-services. Some private employers and some Healthcare Marketplace plans opt to offer autism coverage on their health insurance plans; speak to the employer’s human resources department or your insurance broker about what autism benefits a plan might offer.
Medicaid Waivers: Children and adults in North Carolina with developmental disabilities are eligible to apply for a Medicaid waiver called the NC Innovations Waiver to receive services.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is changing the way Medicaid recipients receive services. For the most up-to-date information and details on how this may apply to you or your loved one as you consider moving to North Carolina, please see the NC Medicaid website: medicaid.ncdhhs.gov.
If you or your loved one are currently receiving Medicaid services in the state in which you live, you may want to select the “Medicaid Enrollment Broker” option found on that page to learn more about NC Medicaid and your options. You can learn more by calling the Enrollment Broker Call Center at 833-870-5500 or visiting ncmedicaidplans.gov.
We also recommend the fact sheet “Five Things You Need to Know About North Carolina’s Behavioral Health and Intellectual/Developmental Disability (I/DD) Tailored Plans,” found here.
In North Carolina, the wait list to receive services from the Innovations Waiver can be extremely long, potentially years. It is important to connect with the Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organization/Tailored plan assigned to the county to which you are moving. Ask them to add the person eligible for services to their Registry of Unmet Needs. This allows them to be added to the wait list for the NC Innovations Waiver.
Medicaid-Eligible Children and Adults: Medicaid eligibility varies from state to state; if you are eligible where you live, be sure to check the requirements for NC to see whether you would still be eligible once you move. For children and adults who are Medicaid eligible, North Carolina includes research-based behaviors health treatment (RBBHT) as part of its Medicaid state plan services. Beginning December 1, 2022, Medicaid will also include a set of services and supports for people with autism under its “i” services waiver. These services are an entitlement for those with Medicaid and will not require a lengthy waiting period.
NC offers very limited amounts of state-funded services that may not be listed here. Because funding is so limited for services for those without Medicaid or insurance coverage, types of services and availability vary across the state. This can be a particularly important consideration for adults with ASD who have graduated or aged out of the public school system.
For more information about how to apply for services, the types of services that are available, and how they are funded, please see the Accessing Services page of our website: www.autismsociety-nc.org/accessing-services
Access to Services
When considering whether to move to a certain area of North Carolina, it is important to investigate access to the services your loved one with ASD requires. While many parts of North Carolina have good autism awareness, that does not always translate into access to services. Things to look into include:
- Number of quality service providers/therapists
- Proximity of providers to your location/distance to travel to services
- What, if any, insurance is accepted by providers. As there is no disability entitlement in North Carolina, non-school based services are often private- Some providers may accept Medicaid; fewer accept private insurance (outside of hospitals). And remember that your health care plan may not cover services for autism.
The Autism Society of North Carolina offers direct supports in many areas of the state. Services may include skilled support, LifeLong Interventions clinical treatment, social recreation, day programs, supported employment, and specialized consultative services. Services may include those funded through Medicaid waivers and through private pay. Check our website for service availability.
Another resource available in North Carolina is the TEACCH Autism Program through the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Regional TEACCH centers offer diagnostic evaluations, parent training, individual counseling, and supported employment. Some services are free and others are offered at rates that are typically less than at a private clinic. Families should apply to the regional TEACCH center that covers their county in North Carolina.
Support is an essential factor to consider when deciding whether or where to move. Remember that support for parents and siblings can be just as important for support for the individual with ASD! We are fortunate to have wonderful autism awareness and support in many areas of North Carolina.
Family: When you move to North Carolina, will you have a network of family members in place that can help you?
Parent Support Groups: ASNC Chapters and support groups are run by parent volunteers. Each group sets its own calendar of activities, including informal parent gatherings, informative meetings and speakers, free family activities, autism awareness events, and more. Our Chapters maintain Facebook groups and/or email lists to help keep members informed about local events in the autism community. Contacting your local Chapter is an excellent way to make connections in your new town!
Many communities in North Carolina are warm and welcoming for individuals with autism. A personal visit is the best way to get a feeling for a town, region, or neighborhood to determine whether it will be a good fit for your family. Some families have chosen to take their loved one with ASD to the places they would be likely to frequent to experience firsthand the level of acceptance within the community. These are some of the places you might wish to visit when seeking the right community for your family:
- Parks and playgrounds
- Children’s museums
- Grocery stores
Tip: Take pictures of the places you visit with your loved one with autism so you can make a book of the places they liked. It can help to ease the transition to their new home when the time comes to move.
Opportunities for recreation and leisure activities are something that is important to the quality of life for your entire family. Consider the interests of all members of your family, including the person with ASD. Some regions in North Carolina have an abundance of adaptive and inclusive recreation activities, as well as public parks and other facilities that are available to all residents. Some do not. Some possible sources of recreation for individuals with autism that you may wish to investigate include:
- County/City Parks and Recreation Departments: Some of our Parks & Rec Departments have inclusion specialists, adaptive recreation programs, social skills groups, and other activities especially for those with autism.
Tip: If you live in a town that has its own Parks & Rec Department, contact them to see how you might be able to take advantage of programs offered by your county Parks & Rec Department too.
- Camp Royall, the Autism Society of North Carolina’s camp located in Pittsboro: It is the nation’s oldest and largest summer camp program for individuals on the autism spectrum, serving both children and adults. Camp Royall also offers a wide variety of recreational activities for people with ASD and their families year-round. Learn more at camproyall.org.
- Special Olympics North Carolina offers activities such as track & field, aquatics, and softball in communities across the
- Area parks, swimming pools, bike paths, and nature trails
- ASNC Chapter activities for families: Individual Chapters organize events and outings that are specially geared to be autism-friendly. Your Chapter is also a good source of information about other autism-friendly groups and
Ultimately, parents of individuals with autism just want for their children what all parents want: a safe, welcoming place where they will be accepted and respected for who they are, a place where they can grow and thrive. If you choose to make North Carolina your home, please contact us so that we can help with your transition and welcome you to our great state.