Guest Blog: Autism Services in the 84th Legislature

Kaitlyn Clifton
Autism Society of Central Texas

March 16, 2015

Autism services in Texas are undergoing what could be a major change this session. Right now, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Autism Program serves about 250 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Texas (according to a recent Senate Finance hearing, the number is actually closer to 200). These services include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is an expensive (hence the low reach of the DARS grants), but an evidence-based intervention (more about evidence-based interventions).

Advocates are concerned because ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, with an estimated prevalence of 1 in every 68 children. By 2016, experts project that 79,000 Texas children will have ASD, far outpacing the state's current capacity for services. (Source: Senate Finance).

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Texas legislators agree that the state should expand the reach of state-funded autism services to meet the growing demand. Two legislators have proposed solutions.

1. Move the Autism Program somewhere else. In late January, Senator Jane Nelson filed Senate Bill Two (SB2), which, in short, recommends the phase-out of the DARS Autism Program, with funding to be transferred to Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Senator Nelson’s rationale is that this transfer to TEA will allow the state to provide services to more children, resolving the issue of the low reach of DARS Autism Program.

The recommendation to transfer funding to TEA has met opposition among advocates who argue that public schools are not equipped to provide comprehensive autism services, like ABA.

2. Give more funding to the Autism Program where it is. In early February, Representative John Otto filed House Bill One (HB1), which provides a stark contrast to SB2. HB1 recommends an increase in DARS Autism Program funds, projecting an estimated 411 children with ASD will receive services through these grants during each fiscal year of the 2016-17 biennium.

Otto's bill maintains the emphasis on effective ABA intervention, but its reach is still relatively low.

In other words, Nelson wants to move services to TEA to reach children through the public school system; Otto thinks these services should stay in DARS, but with increased funding to reach more children.

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Last week, ASD advocates from TEA, DARS, the Texas Autism Research and Resource Center, the Autism Society, Texana, Texas Parent to Parent, and other key stakeholders met to address the questions put forth by legislators. Continued collaboration and communication are expected.

In the meantime, Texas legislators are requesting input from ASD advocates and stakeholders in order that the state may make appropriate provisions for autism services. Contact your legislators to contribute to the conversation!

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Want to know more? Read Kaitlyn's Policy Brief: ASD in the 84th Legislature.

In a slightly off-center shot, a young woman smiles at the camera from a dark background.

About Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn Clifton is an intern for the Autism Society of Central Texas, which provides information and referral, support, education, advocacy and recreational opportunities to individuals with ASD and their families. ASCT is currently working closely with legislators, advocates, individuals and families with ASD to provide input for the 84th Texas Legislature. Kaitlyn is currently working on her master’s of science in social work at the University of Texas at Austin. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in social work from St. Edward’s University and has worked primarily with people with disabilities in a variety of settings.

 

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