RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - The support structure for people dealing with autism typically focuses mostly on young people.

As a developmental challenge, it first shows up in childhood. But now, as those kids grow up to become adults, new efforts are needed to continue their support.

Those new efforts come from the General Assembly, which passed bills to end the age cap for people with autism on Wednesday, February 6.

They extended health coverage to about 10,000 Virginians with autism.

“Right now, you know, we have an age cap, and so insurance was only mandated to cover - provide service - for the ages of two until 10,” Ethan Long, the president of the Virginia Institute of Autism, said.

With the removal of an age cap, healthcare services would expand to people for the duration of their lives.

“Really, it will change the landscape for our adults with autism who have challenges, who are still looking to receive supports and services,” Long said.

“Autism is one of those - it's a growing concern, obviously, I think about 15 percent a year the number of children that are diagnosed with autism continues to grow,” Delegate Bob Thomas said.

The year 2011 was the first time insurance agencies were mandated to provide health services to children in Virginia.

“Initially the goal was to maybe raise it to age 18, but the more we talked about it - going from 18 to an unlimited cap - there's really not a whole lot of additional expense because when you're a younger child, you get a lot of intense services, up to 40 hours a week,” Thomas said.

Thomas says many patients only need one to two hours per week of health services, so removing the cap would only have a small impact.

“We're ultimately going to be able to keep going and following these folks into adolescence and all the way through until adulthood, so it's really exciting because, again, for some folks with autism, they struggle, they have challenges that they struggle with throughout their lifetime, and we're going to be able to address those,” Long said.

If signed into law by the governor, the bill to eliminate the age gap would take effect on January 1, 2020.