TRENTON – A bill package sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Joseph Coniglio which would improve New Jersey’s support infrastructure for families and individuals coping with autism was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Services Committee today.
“As of February, 2007, the federal Centers for Disease Control identified New Jersey as having the highest rate of autism incidence in the nation,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “With our increased understanding of the spectrum of autism disorders comes the increased responsibility of providing a support system for families and individuals living with autism in the Garden State.”
“Autism is a disease which strikes one in 95 children in New Jersey,” said Senator Coniglio, D-Bergen. “It’s not a disease limited to a handful of kids, but afflicts our families, our friends, and our neighbors. We need to provide the support to research efforts while helping individuals with autism meet their highest potential.”
The first bill, S-2559, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Ellen Karcher, 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.
“While New Jersey has done a lot to help children with autism, many times the support dries up when those children transition into adulthood,” said Senator Weinberg. “In some of the most severe cases of autism, individuals need structured support for their entire lives. We need to look into the various issues impacting autistic adults statewide, and take action where necessary to step up support.”
The second bill, S-2568, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Karcher, 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.
According to Senator Weinberg, early intervention has helped children born with other developmental disabilities make better progress in overcoming their disabilities.
“Early intervention has performed miracles for children with developmental disabilities,” said Senator Weinberg. “By getting kids into a structured cognitive development program early, we can help them increase functionality later in life.”
The third bill in the package, S-2569, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Coniglio, would extend funding for autism medical research and treatment. The bill would amend current law, removing the five-year sunset provision for a $1 surcharge on each motor vehicle moving violation to be deposited in the “Autism Medical Research and Treatment Fund.” This bill would ensure permanent funding for autism research into the future. It was unanimously approved by the Committee, and heads to the Budget panel for review.
“Along with supporting autistic individuals, we need to learn more about controlling, and possibly curing the disease,” said Senator Coniglio. “The ‘Autism Medical Research and Treatment Fund’ has helped us expand out understanding of autism spectrum disorders for a minimal fee on motor vehicle fines. We should continue this program, and fund the latest in autism research, to one day be able to find a cure for this disease.”
A fourth bill in the package, S-2574, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Coniglio, which would require the Department of Health and Senior Services to establish an autism awareness training course for emergency responders, was held in order to address concerns from firefighters and EMTs that the training requirement would interfere with local emergency response.