Autism an epidemic

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Autism Task Force recently released its final report to the state legislature after nearly two years of study.

The task force found the number of Alabama children diagnosed with autism is increasing dramatically, and stated that it is imperative the state work to help parents diagnose and treat children with autism.

The task force’s report states the number of children in Alabama’s public schools diagnosed with autism has grown from 68 in 1990 to 849 in 2000, to 2,297 in 2006. Nationwide, about one out of every 150 children has autism.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared autism a national public health crisis.

Though these statistics are quite unsettling and suggest that further progress must be made immediately, the task force’s recommendations and future vision represent an inspired and unwavering commitment to solving this crisis.

Some of the recommendations made by the Task Force include establishing university-based regional centers to increase the number of providers trained to work on autism issues. The task force also reccomended increasing the number of services available to autistic children and their families and ensuring evidence-based interventions are being used by providers and are affordably available to those families.

Also, the panel found that training for teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals should be bolstered.

Finally, the panel suggested that a continuum of residential options should be made available to adults on the Autism Spectrum and employment opportunities for these individuals should be explored.

I am thrilled that Alabama’s Task Force explored so many avenues for identifying autism and getting families steered in the most-effective direction for diagnosis and treatment.

This is going to make an incredibly positive difference for families struggling to find answers.

While I am certainly excited by the initial support and progress on this issue, these recommendations are merely the beginning stages towards defusing a far more complex autism epidemic in our state.

We must continue to ensure adequate funding is made available not only for the sustainability of these initiatives, but also to meet the demands of this constituency.

I hope that the foresight and diligence embodied by this task force will serve as a model for working across party lines to find low-cost solutions to address complex issues afflicting our state.

The efforts, vision and spirited commitment from volunteers, legislators, and the vast array of public and private agencies that assisted in leading the charge for this cause, should be commended.

Though the challenges to manage autism in this state are immense, the clear, stead, and unwavering leadership and commitment to progressive change is apparent in the efforts put forth by all those involved in this crucial endeavor.

With a renewed sense of awareness and the hope for a better future, families and individuals afflicted by this disorder can hopefully find comfort and assurance that they are no longer alone in this journey.