Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kansas Appoints Autism Task Force With Goal of Improving Access to Services

With the four appointments announced by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius on July 10, the state has assembled an 18-member autism task force of parents, educators, service providers (such as a psychologist, speech pathologist and occupational therapist), along with state legislators. As Sebelius' announcement notes, the task force's job is to make recommendations to the state Legislature on new laws "to improve the availability or accessibility of services for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of children with autism, as well as programs to assist their parents."

You can read the governor's statement, issued July 10, here. The task force appointments come as a result of Senate Bill 138, which Sebelius signed in May. (Read a copy of the bill here, in PDF format.)

One of the task force members, Michael Wasmer, a parent who co-founded the Kansas Coalition for Autism Legislation, said the Kansas group has not scheduled its first meeting, but plans are already underway to gather testimony from parents and families who help care for people with autism spectrum disorders.

Task forces are a popular move by states who have decided that there's a problem but need to generate some understanding about what other states are doing to deal with rising autism caseloads. It's a sign that a state is starting to get political traction on what to do about the need for autism services. (See stories about Mississippi, Kentucky, and Washington, as recent examples.)

The Kansas task force agenda, when its members begin work, is action-packed, according to their charge from the Legislature. It includes studying nine points:

* The re-alignment of state agencies that provide services for children with autism.

* The availability and accessibility of services for screening, diagnosis and treatment of children with autism and services for parents and guardians of these children.

* The need to increase the number of qualified professionals and paraprofessionals "who are able to provide evidence-based intervention and other services to children with autism" -- and incentives to meet the demand for these services.

* The benefits now available for autism services.

* Whether the state should establish an autism registry to provide accurate numbers of children with autism spectrum disorders, and provide data for epidemiological surveys.

* Creating a financial aid program for children with autism.

* Setting up an informational hot line for parents seeking autism services.

* Seeking additional funding for programs that provide autism services, "including funding for the development of regional centers of excellence for the diagnosis and treatment of autism."

* Developing recommendations for best practices for early intervention programs for autistic children.

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