MIDDLE ISLAND - Educators and parents on Long Island say there is a growing need for programs that help children suffering from autism, especially as they get older.

Joe Horst, 29, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. His mother, Ellen Page Nelson, says her son had been struggling to be accepted in society until they discovered the program Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE).

"He's much more defined by his abilities than his disabilities because of the opportunities he has, and they just keep growing," Page Nelson says.

Experts say the autism growth rate per year ranges from 10-17 percent. With more Americans being diagnosed with the condition, advocates say now more than ever there needs to be more specialized housing and education, especially on Long Island.

"We're hoping that by brainstorming with our families today and other providers and our legislative leaders, that we'll come up with those creative solutions," says Robert S. Budd, the CEO of FREE.