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AuSM joins ASA on the Hill

ASAonHill2014webAuSM and more than 50 other Autism Society of America affiliates were in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 20 for the annual Autism Society of America Day on the Hill where affiliates discussed legislation and policy issues that affect the national autism community.

ASAonHill2014webAuSM and more than 50 other Autism Society of America affiliates were in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 20 for the annual Autism Society of America Day on the Hill where affiliates discussed legislation and policy issues that affect the national autism community.

The following issues were agreed upon for support by the coalition of Autism Society affiliates:

1. Reauthorization of the “Combatting Autism Act” – While there is consensus that the name of this act is unfortunate, and lawmakers will be encouraged to change it, the overall content is positive for the autism community. Passed with bipartisan support in 2006, this law will expire in September 2014. Legislators are encouraged to support the reauthorization of this law, which seeks to streamline government collaboration and sharing of information about autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This includes:

  • Supporting for the Centers for Disease Control to undertake collection, analysis, and reporting of state epidemiological data on ASD and other developmental disabilities. 
  • Increasing public education that will improve the ability of healthcare providers to use evidence-based interventions and increase early screening for ASD.

2. Passage of the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” – Introduced in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, the bill currently is before the House Committee on Education and Workforce; the Senate version of the bill is currently seeking additional co-sponsors. This bill addresses the lack of federal legislation around the use of restraint and seclusion for children in our schools. In Minnesota, we are fortunate to have state legislation that limits and regulates these practices, but in states without such laws, school districts are free to use these techniques for behavior control, and are not required to notify parents if their child has been subject to restraint or seclusion. This is particularly concerning when it comes to children with language disabilities who may not be able to communicate to their parent or guardian what they have been experiencing at school. The key components of this bill are:

  • Banning the use of seclusion, mechanical and chemical restraints, physical restraints that restrict breathing, and interventions that compromise health and safety.
  • Limiting the use of restraint to emergency situations in which a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger to themselves or others, and in which less restrictive interventions would not be effective.
  • Requiring schools to establish documented procedures for using restraint or seclusion, and requiring school staff who implement these emergency techniques to be trained and certified, and require that they continuously monitor students during interventions.
  • Requiring that parents or guardians be notified if their child was subject to restraint or seclusion, including a debriefing session to go over the incident, and how to mitigate those situations in the future.
  • Requiring states to report the annual number of restraint and seclusion incidents.

3. Ratification of the “United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” – This international treaty provides a vital framework for creating legislation and policies in nations around the globe that would embrace the rights and dignity of all people with disabilities. Treaties must be ratified by the U.S. Senate; this treaty came before the Senate for consideration in 2012 and did not pass, but it is hoped that it will come up for a vote again this year, and it appears that there is growing support on both sides of the aisle. This treaty was based on the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” and does not impact U.S. law, but will make it easier for disabled U.S. citizens to travel and work abroad. The treaty has the support of a broad range of individuals, including former Senator Bob Dole, current Senators John McCain, Dick Durbin, and Tom Harken. Major organizations that support the treaty include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Veterans of Foreign Wars, major corporations and financial institutions, and more than 600 civil rights, faith, and military family service organizations. Benefits of this treaty include:

  • Expanding U.S. leadership in fighting discrimination against persons with disabilities.
  • Making foreign placements accessible for military families that have children with disabilities, in nations that currently have little or no laws in place access and fair treatment for individuals with disabilities.
  • Opening foreign markets to the manufacturers of accessibility products, of which the U.S. is the world leader.
  • Making study abroad accessible to students with disabilities and international travel more accessible for disabled individuals.

4. Potential changes to the “Workforce Investment Act” – This Law directs the implementation of the federal Vocational Rehabilitation Program that assists youth and adults with disabilities to get the education and training they need to obtain and retain a job. While Congress is trying to strengthen the VR services that students with disabilities would receive as they transition out of high school, there are concerns that some possible changes would hurt families of youth with disabilities. One such change that legislators were asked to oppose is a proposal to move the “Vocational Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Program” out of the Department of Education and into the Department of Labor. The concern is that moving this program out of the Department of Education will disconnect them from a culture valuing parental involvement and the other programs that support students with disabilities. Legislators were also asked to strengthen the competitive employment awareness provisions of the law to ensure that young adults with disabilities transitioning from high school to employment are made aware of their right to work in a competitive workplace setting before selecting a non-competitive, often less than minimum wage, work experience.

5. Joining the “Coalition for Autism Research and Education (CARE) Caucus” in the House of Representatives – Founded in 2001, the CARE Caucus was the first congressional membership organization dedicated to autism advocacy on Capitol Hill; currently there are more than 120 members of the caucus from more than 40 states. Autism Society of America members and leaders were encouraged to reach out to their congressional representatives and encourage those who weren’t already members of the CARE Caucus to join. The goals of this bipartisan caucus include:

  • Increasing awareness of ASD among members of congress ad policy analysts in the federal government.
  • Sharing information on current and future ASD research.
  • Leveraging public/private partnerships to pursue legislative initiatives to advance therapies and research related to ASD.
  • Promoting initiatives that ease the impact on families touched by ASD.

As of Feb. 7, 2014 the CARE Caucus members from the Minnesota delegation are

  • Sen. Al Franken (D)
  • Rep. John Kline (R) – 2nd District
  • Rep. Rick Nolan (D) – 8th District
  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D) – 7th District
  • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) – 3rd District

Later that day, AuSM visited the Capitol Hill offices of three Minnesota congressional representatives to discuss the issues outlined above, and to share information about the current state of autism in Minnesota. AuSM had productive conversations with the legislative staff of Representatives John Kline, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson, all of whom were already members of the CARE Caucus. We selected these legislators because they serve communities in the more rural areas of the state, and who are therefore more difficult to meet with when they are at home in their district. AuSM will continue to keep Minnesota’s delegation informed of issues that impact the Minnesota autism community. AuSM encourages you to contact your legislator to voice your support for the issues outlined above, or other matters that concern you.

To contact your legislator, you can click on the links to their official webpages below, or if you’re not sure who your legislator is, visit the link HERE to find out.

U.S. Senate

U.S. House of Representatives