Let’s take action on autism

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, and there is a crisis for support services that needs immediate attention.

As the father of a teenage son with autism, I hope parents, siblings, friends and other caretakers of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder across the state can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone. About one in 68 children are living with autism in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My son Michael was diagnosed at age 3. He’s 14 now, a teenager, and at some point he will be an adult. And at some point, one in 68 adults will be living with autism and will face unique challenges in the areas of education, communication, employment, housing and more.

I have had incredible opportunities to meet both parents of children with autism and adults on the spectrum, as a state legislator and as a parent, and they all agree – getting the right services at the right time for children with autism is a top priority, and having a place to go where they can easily find those supports would make all the difference. For adults on the spectrum, having enough independence to engage the community on their own terms is the key.

That’s where Autism Action NY comes into play.

I have introduced a package of legislation in the state Assembly that would begin to address the growing needs of people with ASD. Autism Action NY is a five-point plan aimed at 1) increasing job opportunities 2) providing independent housing options 3) improving access to information 4) assisting in communication and 5) most importantly, creating a centralized location for services in New York.

The plan includes a bill (A.5141) that would add communication support to the state’s current vocational rehabilitation services for job seekers with ASD to improve employment outcomes, addressing the high unemployment rates for people with developmental disabilities, especially people with autism, who traditionally need help improving interpersonal skills.

It also includes an Autism Home Loan Program (A.8696) that offers a creative option for independent long-term housing needs for family members who are developmentally disabled by leveraging their own resources.

A Communication & Technology Bill of Rights (A.8708) would give people with disabilities better access to technology and information, and a first-of-its-kind state-issued Autism Spectrum Disorder Identification Card (A.8389) as an option for New Yorkers to replace locally issued identifications and homemade notes. The optional ID card would allow an individual, parent or guardian to easily communicate important information, including difficulties with instruction and issues with physical contact, to airport security, law enforcement and first responders, and even at crowded venues like a theme park.

Autism Action NY works a lot like the Autism Society’s Autism Awareness Ribbon, whose pattern of interlocking pieces represents the complexity of the autism spectrum. I see the pieces of this plan as puzzle pieces joined together by a central community participation piece – an Autism Spectrum Disorder Advisory Board (A.8635) that would develop, implement, monitor and annually update a statewide Autism Action Plan, allowing it to evolve by incorporating new information as it becomes available. This board would also ensure that the right services are being delivered to the right people at the right time in an efficient way, and would serve as a one-stop shop for our families seeking autism services.

I’m encouraged by the support this plan has already received from the Autism Society, Schenectady ARC, Liberty ARC, GRASP, NYSID, the Schenectady Fire Department and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the many people who have called my office to express their support and interest since I unveiled this plan.

I encourage anyone who would like to learn more about Autism Action NY to visit my website, assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Angelo-Santabarbara/, and click on the Autism Action NY banner.

Autism Action NY is a first step in bringing awareness and solutions to the obstacles families affected by autism are facing, but it’s an important step in the right direction.

I will be working diligently in Albany this session to get these bills passed and I hope you will be a part of this call for action by spreading the word. With your help, we can make Autism Action NY a reality for all New Yorkers affected by autism.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara represents the 111th District, which includes all of Montgomery County and portions of Schenectady and Albany counties.

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