Lawmakers look at N.D. autism careNorth Dakota lawmakers want to hear about improvements that could be made in the diagnosis and early treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, as well as for their care and education.
By: By Teri Finneman , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers want to hear about improvements that could be made in the diagnosis and early treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, as well as for their care and education.
The Human Services Committee is studying the issue during the 2011-12 interim to come up with recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.
Some legislators don’t have experience with autism and they are interested in hearing about the public’s priorities, said Rep. Al Wieland, R-West Fargo.
“We don’t deal with this every day like some of you do,” said Wieland, the committee chairman.
On Tuesday, legislators heard from several health professionals and parents during a meeting in Bismarck.
Autism spectrum disorders are a complex neurodevelopmental disorder in which the individual has impairments in functional skills, said Barb Stanton, an advanced clinical specialist for Fargo’s Southeast Human Service Center.
Adequate care requires an approach that includes the individual, their caregivers, the educational and legal systems, medical providers, therapists, and vocational and community support, she said.
“There is no other issue where I have worked with parents who feel such a sense of urgency and desperation,” she said. “This is a complex issue that is difficult for many parents to navigate. Their hope is to move their children beyond their basement. They often do not know where to turn or who to trust.”
Thomas Carver, a pediatrician with Minot’s Trinity Health, said autism education is needed for medical providers and families. Early assessments are important, and formal developmental screenings should be done at well-child visits, he said.
The problem is that not all parents bring their children to these visits, he said.
“Most kids these days are seen just for sicknesses,” Carver said. “During that time … it’s very hard to make any assessment on a child’s overall abilities.”
He also said there needs to be improved communication between the medical and education communities. There isn’t a cure for autism, but early intervention helps, he said.
“The earlier you can find any child with any disability and get them into therapy, the better the outcome,” Carver said.
In written testimony, Mindy Iverson of Bismarck told legislators about the struggle to get the right services for her 4-year-old son, Jack.
“In North Dakota, we do not have many resources, and the ones we have take entirely too long,” she wrote.
Other states have centers for children with autism, and something similar needs to be looked at for Bismarck, she said.
Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said he was concerned to hear about the variation in services across the state.
“Whether we have a child that is autistic in the west or the east or the north or the south, it would be our intention, I would hope, that they all receive the services available,” he said. “That really concerned me, the disparity that, in some areas, there’s little if any place to go.”
Wieland said he wants individuals who have autism to come before the committee to share their recommendations for what the state could do to improve services.
Anyone interested in providing autism-related recommendations to legislators may email firstname.lastname@example.org , subject line: Human Services Committee.
Letters can be sent to: Legislative Council, ATTN: Human Services Committee, State Capitol, 600 E. Blvd., Bismarck, ND, 58505.
Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum