Autism Commission Meets, Begins Work to Improve Services

BOSTON – In an effort to improve the care for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the Autism Commission held its first meeting today.

The Commission – comprised of autism experts, providers, advocates and state leaders – reviewed the mission and agenda enacted by the Legislature in 2014 continuing an effort to improve and expand treatment, resources and insurance coverage for individuals with ASD. The group celebrated accomplishments from the new law and highlighted the agenda for future work in access, coverage and services.

Established as part of the landmark Autism Omnibus Legislation of 2014, the Commission will develop recommendations on policies impacting individuals with ASD including Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism, Smith-Magenis syndrome and pervasive development disorder. The Commission will review all the supports necessary to help people with ASD attain education, supported employment, live independently, participate in the community and access social, emotional and behavioral health services. In addition, the Commission will consider new recommendations and report on the progress of implementing the 13 recommendations from the 2013 Massachusetts Autism Commission Report.

“The Commonwealth has long been a leader in providing services to those with disabilities to ensure a continuum of care,” said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Chair of the Commission. “This expert group will be a valuable resource as we focus efforts to support a growing number of residents identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is important that we serve each of these individuals in our communities and provide transitional planning and access to education, employment and housing opportunities.”
One in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Commission is comprised of 35 members including appointments by the House and Senate, secretary of education, commissioners of a number of state agencies, and 14 members appointed by the Governor. One of the Commission’s first agenda items will be to consider candidates to be forwarded for consideration, and appointment by, the Governor. The Commission will meet quarterly and will file an annual report that will include any recommendations for regulatory and legislative actions to make necessary improvements.

“The hallmark of the Autism Omnibus Bill was to create a permanent Commission that would forever advocate for those with ASD and enrich their lives by increasing supports and raising awareness about the needs of this growing population,” said Elin Howe, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS). “The Commission has an important job and it’s gratifying to see this part of the Omnibus Bill move forward.”

The Autism Omnibus Bill was created to address the needs of the growing number of people with ASD. The bill requires MassHealth to cover medically necessary treatments for people with ASD who are under 21, extend DDS services eligibility to many persons with ASD, create an autism endorsement for special education teachers, create tax-free savings accounts and requires DDS and the Department of Mental Health to implement a plan to improve services to individuals with both developmental disabilities and mental illness.

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