Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder of the brain that can compromise an individual's capacity to function independently.  Verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, leisure activities and work can all be negatively impacted by autism.  Every year nearly one in 88 children born will be diagnosed with some form of autism….making autism the fastest-growing developmental disability with a 1,148% growth rate.  These incredible statistics reflect the 1 to 1.5 million Americans living with an autism spectrum disorder and the $60 billion annual cost, 60% of which is in adult services.  Unfortunately, programs available in the state of Tennessee, or within a reasonable service area, for adults with autism are extremely limited and even worse, unfunded!

We conservatively estimate that there are over 2000 individuals with autism in the greater Knoxville area.  Once children with autism exit the school system, they essentially “fall off a cliff.”  The state of Tennessee only provides services to adults with autism with intellectual disability (previously referred to as mental retardation), and there is, therefore, a recognized absence of funding for quality programs and options for adults with autism spectrum disorder in Tennessee.  In addition and most important, there is also a lack of funding for those who are eligible for services, and hence, there are over 8000 individuals in Tennessee on the waiting list for services.   
 Breakthrough Corporation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization located in Knox County, was created by parents and is in its 15th year.  The mission of Breakthrough is to provide services that enable adults with autism to lead purposeful lives.  Breakthrough Corporation provides a range of tailored services necessary for adults with autism and their families and serves as a resource to the broader community.  Breakthrough is centered on a neighborhood like environment serving adults with a diverse range of abilities.  Located in the Greater Knoxville area, Breakthrough offers a variety of high quality and efficient housing, training programs and work and leisure opportunities for adults with autism.  Breakthrough nurtures individual growth, independence and freedom thereby enabling the people we serve to reach their potential for a lifetime of productiveness and fulfillment.  Breakthrough’s vision is a model of excellence for adults with autism and daily strives to improve the lives of adults with autism.
    Starting from a group of five concerned parents, Breakthrough is now a state licensed agency with a budget of approximately $4,000,000 and over 150 employees.   Services including residential; in-home supports; a Saturday therapeutic recreation program; community integration focusing on lifelong education; supported employment emphasizing  job skill development, placement and support; and a social group for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome are all part of the integrated array of programs provided. Our largest project is the construction of a neighborhood in South Knoxville that provides safe and economical housing.  Breakthrough purchased six acres of land on Maryville Pike and has already built six homes with two million dollar (plus) grants received from HUD.  In addition, Breakthrough has just completed a duplex and four single units, which will hopefully address the needs of adults with Asperger’s, with our third million dollar grant from HUD.  When finished, the neighborhood will include homes, a chapel, a recreation center and many more neighborhood amenities.
    Although our numbers fluctuate frequently, Breakthrough currently provides supported living to 30 individuals in 10 homes and 4 apartments. There are 13 people we serve who receive personal assistance services from our organization.  Our Saturday Respite and Recreation program has grown from 26 to 45 participants who are involved in the weekly activities ranging from trips to the Lost Sea to UT baseball games.  Our Community Integration Program has grown from 38 to 53 individuals in the last year and is provided to the people we serve Monday through Friday.  The Supported Employment Program has 5 individuals working in the community, participants in Walgreen’s retail employment initiative training program and 10 persons served involved in Project SEARCH.  We have a waiting list for the new homes and are excited about the plans to reach out to individuals with Asperger’s.       
       Breakthrough is the only agency in the state of Tennessee that provides services exclusively to adults with autism.  Our staff is therefore, specifically trained to deal with this unique population of adults and their very distinctive disability.  Adults with autism are often “left out” of the funding stream, and many parents are forced to struggle on their own to find adequate services for their children as they age out of the school system.  Breakthrough was established by parents (and 9 of the fifteen board members are still parents of or individuals with autism) who recognized the need to provide services and will continue to assure that the people we serve are productive, independent and included in the community.  Community connections allow them to contribute to society by volunteering and at the same time, develop hobbies, interests and new skills by attending classes and participating in activities in the community itself.  In addition, through Supported Employment, adults are provided with the opportunity to develop job skills and explore employment.  However, Breakthrough is a non profit agency that depends on very restricted state funding and the generosity of others to accomplish its goals.