For Immediate Release
April 03, 2009
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Summit launches Mayor's Autism
Initiative during National Autism Awareness Month
Mayor Thomas M. Menino today welcomed over 120 key stakeholders, including parents, advocates, educators, and public health officials, to the first ever Autism Summit in the City of Boston during National Autism Awareness Month. The invited guests, representing a wide range of City agencies and departments, parents, and health care providers, participated in the day-long summit with the goal of strengthening resources and services for families and children with Autism Spectrum Diagnoses (ASD). With the goal of ensuring that Boston, as a city, is supportive and sensitive to the needs of families impacted by autism, Mayor Menino also launched the Mayor's Autism Initiative. The initiative seeks to develop a unique model of care for families and children affected by ASD. As one concrete step we can take right away, the Mayor announced today that he will be asking the state legislature to pass House Bill 3809, an Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism, which would mandate private insurance coverage for critical autism-related services. The bill, similar to those passed in 12 other states, will help provide best practice services to children with autism and recognize that the care of children with autism is a shared responsibility across all sectors.
"We can't afford to view autism simply as a public health issue or simply as an education issue," Mayor Menino said. "In order to meet our shared responsibility, we need to broaden our understanding of autism, and start looking at how we deliver a continuum of services to families of children with autism. Everyone plays a role, from government, to community organizations, to the private sector. As a community, we have an obligation to help families so that they don't face the challenges of care alone."
Today's Autism Summit comes on the heels of a new analysis of national data by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) that demonstrates that children with ASD face more difficult challenges than children with other disabilities. The research shows that children with ASD are more affected in their everyday learning and play activities than children with other conditions, and families are ultimately left paying for the significant costs associated with autism. For example, according to the BPHC analysis, about 25% of Massachusetts families of children with special needs have to cut back or quit work to care for their children. However, this figure rises to 45% for families of children with ASD.
Over the last 10 years, the Boston Public Schools estimates a 300% increase in the number of children diagnosed as being on the spectrum of autism. Although the overall number of children with ASD in the Boston Public Schools remains relatively low, 1 out of every 150 children nationally is diagnosed with ASD. The goals of today's Summit included: 1) Creating a shared vision and roadmap for a system of care; 2) Raising public awareness; 3) Establishing an advisory team to advance the work of the Mayor's Autism Initiative; and 4) Generating a report to be broadly circulated that documents the work of the Summit. Dr. Susan Wilczynski, Executive Director of the National Autism Center, provided the keynote speech.
Mayor Menino's Autism Initiative seeks to improve the City of Boston's educational and public health systems of care and services for children with Autism Spectrum Diagnoses and their families. The initiative will bring together key stakeholders in order to create a unique, citywide system of care for children and youth with ASD. Starting with a comprehensive review of current services in Boston and of findings concerning the daily experience of Boston families raising children with autism and related conditions, the initiative will look to national guidelines and best practice models to find opportunities for improvement.
Goals of the Mayor's Autism Initiative include:
- Optimal developmental outcomes for Boston children with ASD, in terms of educational achievement, social integration and potential for adult autonomy in areas including employment and independent living;
- Reduced burden on families raising children with ASD, resulting in improved employment options for parents, decreased family break-up and reduced parent stress;
- A shared culture that respects families by recognizing the need for a family-centered approach, and maximizes integration across sectors and agencies;
- Development of state of the art programs in Boston Public School settings to reduce the need to send children out of the community;
- Inclusion of children with ASD in all aspects of community life throughout the City of Boston; and
- An outstanding program that will be recognized and replicated throughout the state and country.
These broad, visionary goals will be operationalized over time as objectives for the Mayor's Autism Initiative, focusing on specific elements of the service system. Relevant elements include, state-of-the-art screening and diagnosis, early intervention, access to a medical home, early childhood education, k-12 education with specialized services as needed, after-school and community activities, family supports, and transition to adult living and post-secondary education or employment.