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Capital Region Assemblyman Introduces Autism Legislation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children in the U.S. is born with autism. It’s recognized as one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in the country.

Kirk Lewis, Executive Director of Schenectady ARC, says the more we learn about autism, more services are needed to assist those on the spectrum.

“As those children become adults, we need a system of supports and services that can meet those needs. So I think there’s a growing awareness that people with autism spectrum disorders do present, some unique needs that haven’t been fully addressed by the traditional service system, and that those needs are increasing,” said Lewis.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, who represents Montgomery County and potions of Schenectady and Albany Counties, is unveiling a package of bills he’s calling the Autism Action NY plan.

Santabarbara, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age 3, says families living with autism face unique challenges.

“It was rather difficult, I think, to sort of figure out where to collect information, what to do next, and we did find out, but it took time to find out what the best path was for my son,” said Santabarbara.

The five-point plan would focus on increasing job opportunities, providing independent housing options, improving access to information, assisting in communication, and creating a centralized location for services in New York.

Santabarbara, a Democrat, says the centralization of services is the most important component and would be overseen by an Autism Spectrum Advisory Board, which would create a statewide autism action plan.

“This plan would be building on things that may already be existing – existing infrastructures, resources – but also incorporating new information as it becomes available. As we said, year after year, we’re getting more information. We’re getting more and more information, we’re getting more and more data, more and more statistics. SO this board would be responsible for coming up with a plan, what best practices are, what’s working, what’s not working, what can be improved, and also collecting data.”

Some parts of the package have been advocated for before, like the creation of a state recognized autism identification card.

Kate Palmer is president and CEO of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, or GRASP. Palmer says she’s been talking with families about the benefits of a standardized ID card for some time.

“There are several organizations that provide identifications cards but I think this one is really a wonderful opportunity for New York state families because they’re going to be recognizable across the board for first responders, and I think that’s a very important piece.”

Santabarbara was scheduled to join with a group of autism advocates to unveil the bill Friday afternoon at the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region at 101 State Street in Schenectady.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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