The Autistic Self Advocacy Network-VA sent this comment to Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). JLARC is conducting a study of autism services in the state.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network appreciates the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) opportunity to address the state of autism services in Virginia.
In general, a main factor that impacts the ability of Virginians on the autism spectrum to access services is the lack of a central location online, or agency-based clearinghouse to access information about services. Information about autism and developmental disability-related services and programs is not disseminated from any central location.
Adults on the autism spectrum may need accommodations in order to access information about services, and the services themselves. Some options include online information access in a single location. Information should include housing options, health care access, and assistance in navigating various agencies and systems, since often the amount of information, paperwork, phone calls, etc. can preclude someone being able to access assistance effectively, if at all. Families of adults on the autism spectrum often also need access to information about available services. The EasyAccess site does provide some information but a search of that site does not provide autism-specific information that could be useful to parents and people on the autism spectrum.
The VA Board for People with Disabilities or another DD agency should have an online portal specifically for autism, and also dedicated staff, to ensure that families, and individuals on the autism spectrum, are able to obtain accurate and timely information.
Key services needed:
Alternatives to group homes, ICF/MRs and institutions. Put more money into the hands of people on the autism spectrum and families rather than shoring up aging institutions. Virginia is one of only three states that has closed no institutions. The DD and MR waiver wait lists are years long. Consider public-private initiatives. Housing considerations should include: accessibility to public transportation, safety considerations, affordability, and availability of support personnel if needed.
In addition, the lack of accessible, affordable housing is a major barrier to independent living.
Health care access for age 21 and over:
Adults on the autism spectrum need access to medical services, including appointment-making assistance, help with identification of health needs, preventative health care, and training of medical personnel including office staff, so that access is more likely and more effective.
Identify, develop, and disseminate "autism-friendly" physicians' practices, with such accommodations as online scheduling, some assistance with insurance claims, and the like. This could be a pilot project with input from people on the autism spectrum. A current community-based research project by The Academic Autistic Spectrum Project in Research and Education is studying health care access issues. Utilize findings from this study (when available) in order to determine health care needs and access
needs of adults on the autism spectrum. (http://www.aaspireproject.org)
Personal assistance services (PAs) are needed by some individuals on the autism spectrum, both children, and adults who have aged out of education and health insurance systems. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recommends training of appropriate service personnel, with input from autistic adults, who will have the most informed ideas about what kinds of care they need.
Assistive technology access:
Information about assistive technology, including assistive and augmentive communication devices available, funding sources, and state insurance requirements. Information and links to assistive technology information sites, and decisionmaking options (not just sites that actively sell assistive and augmentive communication devices) should be provided at the central location we recommend.
Training of employers and co-workers so that more people on the autism spectrum can be placed in situations that will work for both the employee and the employer. Suggestions include an information brochure for employers who are identified as wanting to participate in an assisted employment program. Input from adults and
teens on the autism spectrum as to needs in the workplace is crucial.
Job counseling for individuals on the autism spectrum. The job counseling should be individualized and tailored to the individual’s needs and understanding about employment options. Job counseling should not follow stereotyped assumptions about what jobs or employment situations are appropriate for people on the autism spectrum. Again, input from and consultation with autistic adults can be invaluable.
Many teens and adults on the autism spectrum do not drive, yet have transportation needs for employment, health care, personal, and recreation needs. Increasing the types of transportation available, both fixed-time and route and on-demand services, is crucial for full integration into the community. In addition, some adults may need assistance with understanding bus schedules and other forms of transportation so as to be able to access available transportation. One model, which takes into account such issues as sensory differences, is the United Kingdom’s Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. This committee works to address barriers to accessibility, including the training of transportation staff in awareness of various disabilities and how they impact users of public transportation.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with disabilities who have Individualized Education Plans must receive a plan for transition by age 16. However, Virginia state law mandates that such a plan be implemented by age 14. This earlier age for transition planning should be kept in place. In addition, to facilitate effective transition planning, the state should work to integrate the adult services infrastructures, such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Living and similar service-delivery systems, with the transition process in Virginia high schools. Experiential learning options have been shown to have a positive impact on student transition and should be incorporated into student IEPs in a way that works with the unique strengths of autistic students. Furthermore, Virginia must work to increase the number of students on the autism spectrum who will have access to higher education opportunities. As students with disabilities in the post-IDEA infrastructure sometimes require documentation to qualify for ADA accommodations in higher education and the workplace, Virginia should institute a requirement that schools offer parents the opportunity to receive new, current educational testing prior to graduation, in order to ensure students leave school with the necessary materials for accessing their legal rights in the post-IDEA infrastructure.
Adequacy of autism service delivery system:
Diagnoses of young children: Some publications in the state of Virginia geared toward newly diagnosed children are unnecessarily alarmist. A quote from the first sentence in a packet from on of the major diagnostic clinics: "Parents are devastated when they learn of an autism diagnosis." This leaves no room for parents to have other reactions, and has been off-putting in some cases, leading parents to look elsewhere for information. Diagnoses should stick to known facts about autism spectrum conditions.
Diagnosticians should consult with parents, families, and individuals on the spectrum as to the best ways of disseminating information about diagnoses. The Autistic Self
Advocacy Network currently consults with parents of newly diagnosed children to provide alternative, and more affirming views of autism without neglecting the very real challenges that families and individuals on the spectrum face.
Public school services:
Training of aides and teaching assistants in understanding of autism spectrum conditions. In addition to knowledge about behaviors, consult with adults on the autism spectrum for information about why behaviors occur. Consultation with adults on the autism spectrum, who are necessarily more familiar with the needs of autistic persons than anyone else, should be a preferred source of information on this matter.
Strategies like Positive Behavioral Supports should be developed and implemented
throughout all school districts. Pilot programs can be developed in several districts and then disseminated throughout the entire state.
There is no regulation or oversight regarding the use of restraints and seclusion time-outs for children with special needs, including autism, in Virginia public schools. The only document is the 2005 "Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures for
Managing Student Behaviors in Emergency Situations in Virginia Schools Focusing on Physical Restraint and Seclusion."
The preface to the document asserts: "These guidelines are informational and are neither mandated nor required." Without adequate regulation and legislation regarding the use of restraints and seclusion, children, particularly those with special needs, including autism, are at risk for being subject to abuse of restraint devices and seclusion rooms.
Adequacy of coordination of services over entire lifetime:
Many parents and individuals on the autism spectrum feel that once they age out of the school system, there are few services, and the services there are, are not accessible. Parent advocates and self-advocates are creating their own programs (one source is graduates of VBPD's Partners in Policymaking program) to fill in the gaps in supported
employment, housing, community day programs, and others.
Even with dedicated efforts by individual advocates and organizations, state-level and/or public-private initiatives (with oversight) need to be in place. Children who are on the autism spectrum now will grow into adulthood as autistic individuals, many with some remaining degree of disability. Services and supports need to be in place and ongoing for future generations of Virginians with developmental disabilities. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has a growing network of consultants on the autism spectrum who can assist with development of programs, including public policy advocacy, outreach to media, educational consulting, and social and support groups and networks.