RD147 - Lead Agency to Serve Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Executive Summary:

“Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities defined by significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests….The thinking and learning abilities of people with ASDs can vary – from gifted to severely challenged. ASD begins before the age of 3 and lasts throughout a person's life. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is four times more likely to occur in boys than girls." (Source: Autism Information Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website.)

Estimates regarding the prevalence of ASD have increased exponentially in recent years with the current estimate being 1 child in every 150 in the United States. The Commonwealth of Virginia, like many states, is struggling to address the ever-increasing need for educational and support services for children and adults with ASDs.

The Behavioral Health Care Subcommittee of the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) began its review of issues related to autism spectrum disorders in 2005. The Subcommittee learned of the significant educational and support needs of persons with ASDs and the critical need for one State agency to have primary responsibility for planning and service provision. Legislation and budget amendments, introduced on behalf of JCHC, sought to address some of the most pressing needs. HJR 96 and SJR 125 (2006) were identical resolutions which asked: (1) the Department of Education to continue to implement initiatives to strengthen teacher qualifications related to the needs of children with ASDs; and (2) the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services to assist in expanding “training opportunities that include approaches specifically addressing the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders…." HJR 96 and SJR 125 were adopted unanimously by the 2006 General Assembly.

During the 2008 Session, JCHC introduced a budget amendment requesting that the Secretary of Health and Human Resources develop and report on an Implementation Plan to determine the State agency that should be responsible for serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Although the suggested language was not included in the approved budget, a letter was sent by the Chairman of JCHC asking the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to develop and report on an Implementation Plan.

On behalf of the Joint Commission and staff, I would like to thank the consumers, families, advocates, and public and private representatives, who are too numerous to enumerate, for their many valuable contributions to this review.

Kim Snead
Executive Director
May 2008