The 15-member Washington task force includes researchers, state officials, Senate and House members, parents and service providers. The task force says that the state should help people with autism from the time they are diagnosed (with a goal of that happening by 18 months of age) and throughout their adult lives. The report states:
It is our goal to ensure that persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), regardless of age, race/ethnicity, and geography are included in their communities and receive appropriate and timely individualized, multidisciplinary, evidence-based, legally required services throughout their life. Early screening and intervention are essential and significantly improve outcomes for children with ASD. ADS is, however, a lifelong condition, and ongoing, appropriate treatments and family supports are required to enable adults with ASD to live productive lives in their own communities.OK, so how do you do that? That's what the recommendations cover. They say that Washington state should:
- Create four regional autism centers "to provide community based diagnostic services," along with health care and "appropriate evidence-based therapies such as speech, occupational therapy, ABA (applied behavior analysis)" and training programs for people with autism for their lives.
- Ensure comprehensive health services, including medical care, vision, dental care and behavioral health services for people with autism.
- Start publicly-funded autism-related services within 15 days of diagnosis.
- Increase the state's ability to identify and track people with ASD and the services they receive.
- Screen all children before age three, with a goal of screening by 18 months of age. Screen adults for incidence of high-functioning autism and Aspergers.
- For children from birth to age 5 suspected of having autism, provide at least 25 hours of publicly-funded services per week, 12 months a year, for children suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder from birth to age 5.
- For children in kindergarten through grade 12, provide a minimum of 30 hours per week of appropriate, publicly funded services.
- Provide appropriate educational services for people with autism through age 21.
- Provide continued multidisciplinary supports, therapies, vocational assistance and other services to autistic adults. Do this through regional autism centers, human services agencies and community organizations.
- Develop education programs for all graduating students with ASD to help them succeed in post-secondary education programs, vocational/technical school, supported employment, community living, recreation and leisure opportunities. The goal here is to make people with autism "contributing, tax-paying citizens in their community," and the report notes "almost all [people with autism] can be successfully employed with appropriate supports."
- Include autistic adults in Washington's Working Age Adult Policy, which means day services provided to them are designed to put them "on a pathway to employment."
- Develop a guidebook for parents, service providers and others to help them understand what autism is and what they should do. Put the book online, in public libraries statewide and in CD format.
- Increase the availability of childcare providers for kids with autism. Provide respite services for families and personal care help for people with autism.
- Provide social services and support to parents and siblings of people with autism as a way to preserve families and prevent out-of-home placements.
- Increase the options for residential and long-term care when out-of-home placements are needed.
- Train professionals and educators who work with people with autism so they can understand the complexity of the disorder.
- Commission a study on how to finance these services across state and federal agencies.
- Pass legislation to require insurance coverage of "evidence based, medically necessary interventions and services for individuals with ASD across the lifespan." The report states "employer-based private health insurance plans are generally inadequate in terms of financing ASD services" though it says there are some model exceptions to the rule.
- Pay for more community-based parent and family support organizations to meet the emotional needs of families and provide information about dealing with an autistic family member.
- Fully fund regular education and revise the state's complex formula for special education costs so that early childhood autism services don't burden local school districts.
- Create incentives, such as a student loan forgiveness program, to attract more doctors, dentists and other health care professionals to work with Washington's autistic population.
- Establish a tax incentive for employers who provide jobs for people with autism.
It's an impressive list -- one that other states and the federal government could study for ideas to copy -- and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming year.