Weinberg/Coniglio Autism Bills Signed Into Law

WEST WINDSOR – A bill package sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Joseph Coniglio, designed to increase and improve available resources for families and individuals living with autism, was signed into law today by Governor Jon Corzine. The bills were signed at the Eden Institute, a non-profit organization which provides educational and vocational services to adults and children living with autism.

Autism is a neurological developmental disability that impacts brain development in the areas of communication skills, social interaction and cognitive function. People living with autism often struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction.

“According to federal statistics, New Jersey has the highest number of autism cases in the nation,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “We are still learning about the autism spectrum disorders, but while we are learning, we must be able to provide much-needed assistance to families living with autism. As the number of residents living with autism increases, we must have the resources in place to provide them with support programs as we work to find ways of decreasing autism rates in New Jersey and around the world.”

One measure, S-2569, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Coniglio, extends funding for autism medical research and treatment. The new law amends the law that had been in place by 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.” The law will help provide a permanent funding source for autism research.

A second measure, S-2568, concerns early intervention programs for children with autism. Under the new law, the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Early Intervention Program (EIP) will be responsible for creating initiatives to help address the needs of autistic children and their families. The EIP will work with the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism and other autism groups around New Jersey to develop treatment guidelines for health care professionals to follow when working with autistic infants and toddlers.

The EIP will also be responsible for referring autistic infants, toddlers and their families to different schools, community groups and organizations offering programs designed to meet the needs of children living with autism.

“When dealing with autism, early intervention is important,” said Senator Weinberg. “If families of autistic infants are aware of available educational and life skills training, these children can learn how to deal with the disease at an early age. The law will also help to provide support systems for families of autistic children, so that they can share experiences, concerns, and learn more about the autism spectrum disorders.”

“All too often, parents of special needs children are left feeling helpless and unable to provide the educational opportunities and support their children need,” said Senator Coniglio. “This new law will create support groups, and help make families aware of the resources that are available to help provide their autistic children with the educational training they need to become productive members of society.”

A third measure, S-2558, will make training in autism awareness a condition of teacher licensure. The law calls upon the Commissioner of Education to work with the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services and autism education groups to develop coursework dealing with the characteristics and needs of autistic students. The coursework will be included in the curriculums of every college or university in New Jersey offering teacher or paraprofessional certification.

Another Weinberg/Coniglio-sponsored measure, S-690, calls upon the Department of Human Services to develop statewide educational, vocational and social services to help benefit adults living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by autistic-like behaviors, such as deficiencies in social and communication skills. Those living with the disorder tend to be self-absorbed and often display obsessive or repetitive routines. Asperger’s differs from traditional autism in that it is not usually diagnosed until adulthood, said Senator Weinberg.

“By making these resources available to residents living with Asperger’s Syndrome, they will be able to gain increased independence and work toward living as self-sufficiently as possible,” said Senator Coniglio.

A similar measure, S-2559, was also signed. This new law establishes the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force within the Department of Human Services, to study, evaluate and develop recommendations for support, job training and placement, housing and long-term care programs for autistic adults.

Governor Corzine also signed, S-698, a measure to increase the membership of the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism.

Lastly, S-2306, which requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to maintain a registry of reported autism diagnoses, became law today.

“New Jersey’s high autism rate is an incentive to take the lead on autism research throughout the nation,” Senator Weinberg said.

“New Jersey is a world leader in many areas of medical research, and it is my hope that this bill package that was signed today will help increase awareness and funding for autism research,” said Senator Coniglio.

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