NJ looks to expands services for those with autism

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2009 11:15 AM

New Jersey Assembly members are poised to vote on legislation that would provide more assistance for people with autism.

The Garden State has the nation's highest autism rate, and officials have moved in recent years to raise awareness about the disorder and encourage early diagnosis and early intervention. New Jersey recently became the 15th state to require expanded health insurance coverage for autism, and also has established a centralized statewide autism registry and trains teachers in autism awareness.

The two measures scheduled for a vote Monday mostly target adults with autism.

One bill would permit them to voluntarily place their names on a new state registry that officials say would help improve planning and other services for those with autism spectrum disorders. Adults could register themselves or be listed by a health care or service provider.

The other would revise the state's discrimination laws to specifically prohibit discriminatory acts against people with autism.

Both measures are sponsored by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, and were recommended by the Adults with Autism Task Force that was created under a law he sponsored. Both were approved late last month by the Assembly's Health and Senior Services Committee.

"These bills represent common sense steps forward meant to ensure that adults with autism and developmental disabilities are given equal chance to succeed as they grow older," Roberts said. "That's crucial, not only to their lives, but to society as a whole. It will cost taxpayers severely if adults with autism do not get the services they need to live as independently as possible."

Autism is considered a genetic-based disorder. Its cause has not been pinpointed and there is no known cure. The symptoms are wide-ranging and include poor speaking and eating abilities, self-inflicted injuries and inappropriate crying or laughing, according to Autism New Jersey.

A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found 1 in 94 children in New Jersey have the genetic-based disorder, compared with 1 in 152 nationwide.

Besides Roberts, other primary sponsors of the bills in the Assembly include Democrats L. Grace Spencer of Newark, Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Englewood, Joan Voss of Fort Lee and John Wisniewski of Middlesex.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate and is under consideration in the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.