The springs were sticking out of the very worn and dilapidated seats in an auditorium deep in the State House basement on Beacon Hill.  I had anticipated an overflow crowd for such an important occasion; but instead, it was a nice showing.

After over two years of hard work by the Commission comprised of parents, leaders of non-profits, medical professionals, state agency members & designees, and state legislature members; The Massachusetts Autism Commissions Report recommendations were presented and published today.

“The mission charged the Commission to focus on:

  • Best practices
  • Increased coordination among state agencies
  • Maximization of federal reimbursement and other resources
  • Approaches to better serve individuals on the spectrum and their families.”

The initial list of issues to investigate was lengthy with thirteen entries.

The development was done by four groups focusing on:

  • Birth to Age five
  • School Age
  • Transition to Adulthood (18-22)
  • Adults

In addition, the Commission sought out personal experiences and stories from the public to inform and enrich the discussions.

We learned that after the initial work was done, the actual writing was completed by a core group meeting in member’s homes and working late into the night on many occasions.  This is grassroots dedication at its best.

The report was organized as thirteen priorities in order of importance.  Each priority resulted in recommendations and in most cases House and Senate Bills.  All of the bills were introduced in January of this year.  Other short and long term goals were documented.

 Several top priorities are:

1.     “Expand eligibility criteria for the Department of Developmental Services so that individuals with autism who have IQs over 70 and have substantial limitations have access to services.”  The goal is to broaden the pool of eligible people.

2.     “Assure that those with autism and a co-occurring mental health condition have equal access to and appropriate services from the Department of Mental Health.”  The goal is to figure out better ways to assess people – an autism diagnosis should not disqualify people from getting the services that they need.

4.     Expand insurance coverage for autism treatments.  This is significant.

“Increasing the range of housing options for individuals with autism” is down in 11th place on the list. It must have been difficult to prioritize the list, as most goals seem imperative.

The final goal, lucky #13, is to establish the Autism Commission as a permanent agency under the department of Health and Human Services.

It is believed that there are an estimated 75,000 individuals with autism in the state of Massachusetts which is 1.1%.  We don’t really know!  With the new national statistic of 1 in 50, the actual number could be more like 150,000 people.

“The Recommendations are diverse and extensive. It is understood and acknowledged that implementation of many of these recommendations will require legislative actions, statutory changes and/or financial resources and that some will take more time to implement than others. They are, by intent, broad and ambitious. But collectively, they represent a vision and blueprint for Massachusetts to address the needs of all individuals and families affected by autism.”

The report is meant to be a living and breathing document.  Many dedicated individuals and their work were honored today.

So much work has been done and yet, there is much work still to do.

The full report should be online tomorrow:      http://www.mass.gov/hhs/autismcommission.

Nancy K. Harrod