TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg, Ellen Karcher and Joseph Coniglio designed to help increase resources, funding and treatment for those living with autism unanimously cleared the Senate today.
One bill, S-2558, would make training in autism awareness a condition for teacher certification. The bill would call 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 would be included in the curriculums of every college or university offering teacher or paraprofessional certification.
The goal of this legislation is to allow autistic students to remain in mainstream classes whenever possible,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Today’s teachers must be able to deal with the different needs of the children they work to educate, and this bill would further equip teachers to deal with the needs of today’s youth.”
“We know that children on the autism spectrum can make great strides to meet educational and socialization goals when they receive the right intervention in a supportive educational environment,” said Senator Karcher, D-Mercer and Monmouth. “As times change, so must the training that teachers receive. This legislation would work to effectively prepare teachers to teach students with different educational needs.”
The Senate also approved, S-2568, a measure to require the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Early Intervention Program (EIP) to create initiatives to help address the needs of autistic children and their families. The EIP would be responsible for working with the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism and other Autism groups around the state to develop treatment guidelines for health care professionals to follow when working with autistic infants and toddlers up to two-years old.
The bill would also call on the EIP to refer autistic infants and toddlers and their families to different schools, community groups and organizations offering programs designed to meet the needs of children living with autism. The EIP would also be charged with the task of collecting data on statewide autism screening and diagnosis programs to be used for autism research and policy development.
“Though there is no cure for autism, people living with the disease can thrive if they begin receiving the educational and life skills training they need at an early age,” said Senator Weinberg. “This legislation would work to educate parents of young children living with autism so that they are able to informed decisions about the educational needs of their children. The bill would also work to provide support systems and put families of autistic children in touch so that they can share experiences and learn more about the autism spectrum disorders.”
“When raising a child with special needs, it might help if parents get feedback from other families dealing with the same issues,” said Senator Karcher. “This bill would give families of autistic children information about different resources available as well as family support groups so that they can provide and receive valuable encouragement.”
A third measure, S-2559, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Karcher which would establish the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force within the Department of Human Services to study, evaluate and develop recommendations support, job training and placement, housing and long-term care programs for autistic adults.
The 13-member task force would consist of the Commissioners of Human Services, Health and Senior Services, Education and Labor and Workforce Development, representative of the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism as well as six Governor-appointed members, including one adult living with autism as well as representatives of autism groups throughout the State and two members appointed by the Legislature.
The task force would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature no later than a year after the first task force meeting.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, New Jersey has the highest autism rates in the nation, and as the population increases, so will the number of residents living with the disease,” said Senator Weinberg. “This task force would help develop new and innovative training methods as well as support groups for New Jerseyans living with autism so that can support themselves and live as self-sufficiently as possible.”
“This task force would work to provide the best possible resources for families impacted by autism. By collaborating the efforts of State autism groups as well as different cabinet officials, New Jersey can continue to advance the fight against autism,” said Senator Karcher.
The Senate also approved S-2569, a measure sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Coniglio, which would create a permanent funding source for the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Infantile Autism.
The bill would amend current law, which Senator Weinberg originally authored as an Assemblywoman, 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 is estimated that $ 4 million will be produced, said Senator Weinberg.
“New Jersey’s autism rates are the highest in the nation, and it is absolutely necessary that we have a permanent funding source in place to allow for further autism research,” said Senator Weinberg.. “Our high autism rate is an incentive to take the lead on autism research throughout the nation.”
“This year alone NJ has experienced a 15% increase in autism among our student population; this is a troubling trend that demands attention and permanent funding. This legislation would ensure much needed funding for autism research,” said Senator Coniglio, D-Bergen. “My hope is that additional funding will promote advances in the treatment and prevention of autism. New Jersey is a world leader in many areas of medical research, and this important funding will provide support for private research specifically intended to treat and prevent autism.”
These bills are also up for a vote today in the Assembly. After approval in the Assembly, they will head to the Governor’s desk where his signature would make them State laws.