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Karcher Autism Bills Approved By Senate Health Committee

TRENTON – Bills sponsored by Senator Ellen Karcher which would enhance New Jersey’s response to children and adults living with autism in New Jersey was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Services Committee today.

“Autism rates across the nation are soaring, and while we’re expanding our knowledge about the disorders and effective treatment, more and more kids are being diagnosed,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the United States, and we need to provide a support system which addresses the needs of autistic individuals as well as their families. These bills will go a long way, ranging from early childhood support to adult autistic services, to stepping up New Jersey’s response to the autism epidemic.”

The first bill, S-2559, sponsored by Senators Karcher and Loretta Weinberg, would establish the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force in the Department of Human Services. The nine-member task force would be charged with studying, evaluating and making recommendations to support adults living with autism in New Jersey. Specifically, the bill directs the task force to focus on job training and placement, housing and long-term care. The bill was unanimously approved by the Committee, and heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“Our responsibility to autistic individuals doesn’t end on their eighteenth birthday, and we need to look at areas where New Jersey can improve life for autistic adults,” said Senator Karcher. “This task force would use latest research on autism spectrum disorders, as well as the quality-of-life observances which are specific to New Jersey, to expand our State’s support for those folks living with autism into adulthood.”

The second bill, S-2568, sponsored by Senators Karcher and Weinberg, would require the Early Intervention Program in the Department of Health and Senior Services to address the specific needs of children with autism spectrum disorders and their families and begin collecting statewide information regarding autism incidence in New Jersey. The bill would require the EI program to develop guidelines to evaluate infants and toddlers for autism, and ensure the timely referral by health care professionals for early intervention services. The bill was unanimously approved, and heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate for a vote.

Senator Karcher noted that early intervention has shown much success in helping children diagnosed with other developmental disabilities in making better progress in their treatment later in life.

“I have been a strong advocate for early intervention, because I know what a difference it makes in the lives of families dealing with developmental disabilities,” said Senator Karcher. “If we can focus early intervention services on kids with autism, the structured nature of the program would greatly improve their chances of mainstreaming into education programs and improving their social skills.”

Another bill, S-2569, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Joseph Coniglio which would permanently ensure funding for autism research in New Jersey, was unanimously approved by the Committee, and heads to the Senate Budget panel before going to the full House for review.

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