Tuesday, October 30, 2007

California Autism Commission Prepares Legislation for 2008; Recommendations Cover Health Insurance, Education, Services, Awareness, Diagnosis

The California Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism has published a report with recommendations for legislative action in 2008. The commission's 93-page report (a PDF file), presented in September to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Assembly, issues findings about Californians with autism spectrum disorders, describes the presence of autism services in the state and makes recommendations in seven areas, from early intervention to post-secondary education, from health insurance to teacher training, for addressing what it calls "the ASD public health crisis."

This is a big deal for parents and families beyond the state capital in Sacramento; I would expect advocates for autism services across the country to follow closely what happens in this effort, and to glean both insights and lessons from the recommendations and resulting changes to autism services in California. Autism Bulletin readers are a busy group, but if it's possible for you, reading the commission's report is a good use of time to familiarize yourself with issues and challenges families need to address as they support people with autism and advocate for them. It's a quick education in how a big state looks at the autism issue, how it organizes to address autism needs, and how it frames approaches to important issues like health insurance and education.

Convened for two years after a 2005 state resolution, the panel's report notes that it has sought and won legislative approval to remain active for another year, until November 2008, so it can monitor the progress of work on its recommendations.

The Commission's Seven Recommendations: What They Cover

As in other states (such as Washington and Kentucky) that have formed important autism study groups, the California panel takes a comprehensive approach to providing support services to a growing number of citizens diagnosed with autism. (The California report also asserts the relative strength of services and research institutions compared to other states in the U.S.) The panel's recommendations call on California to:

1. Expand early diagnosis and intervention. The panel calls for establishing a demonstration project to serve as a model for expanding the state's ability to identify autism cases early. "the demonstration project should focus on distressed communities; ensure the timely diagnosis of and intervention for children with ASD; improve collaboration among providers; provide support to families and caregivers; establish a seamless system for service delivery between regional centers and local education agencies; and promote smooth transitions" from birth to kindergarten.

2. Enact health insurance legislation. The panel calls on the state to pass laws, regulations "and other policies to ensure appropriate and equitable coverage for ASD by private health plans and insurers."

3. Establish a muscular public awareness campaign. The panel calls on California to "implement a statewide public awareness campaign on ASD" tied to efforts by the state's Department of Public Health to improve access to autism services.

4. Increase the supply of trained educators for students with autism. This recommendation refers to teachers, paraprofessionals and other school-based staff who need specialized training to be effective.

5. Address the need to resolve disputes about autism services between families and school districts. The report's executive summary calls on California to "empower families and local education agencies to collaborate in establishing appropriate and effective individualized education programs for children with ASD," adding that the state needs to review the process for resolving such disputes.

6. Expand the educational and employment options for youth and young adults with autism. This recommendation includes broadening existing post secondary education programs and setting up new technical education models that can lead to employment with supports. The panel also urges the state to "expand innovative community-based approaches to supported employment, transportation, social-recreation programs, and housing for the ASD population."

7. Train emergency workers and first responders about helping people with autism in a crisis.

Endorsement by Autism Speaks Chapters, Focus on Health Insurance

The commission published its report in September, as required by law. On Oct. 22, representatives for the Autism Speaks chapters in San Francisco and San Diego issued statements endorsing the commission's report. You can read a copy of the San Francisco Autism Speaks chapter's press release by clicking on the web link. The statement zeroes in on the health insurance issue as a key ingredient of the commission's recommendations:

"Autism Speaks commends the Commission and its staff for reaching out in countless ways to parents and advocates across California and for listening to our concerns about appropriate and equitable health care insurance for children with autism," said Kristin Jacobson, Chapter Advocacy Chair, Autism Speaks California. "We believe that all health plans and insurers should provide a full range of services for children with autism, including intensive behavioral treatment, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, a highly effective, evidenced-based intensive behavior modification therapy."

Also see:

* Autism Bulletin articles relating to health insurance

* House Bill Calls on Congress to Establish Autism Education Task Force

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