A new state council will seek to streamline care and support for Tennessee families impacted by autism.
Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed off on a measure that creates the Tennessee council on autism spectrum disorder. The council, made up of several state agencies, will coordinate among state agencies assisting families with ASD and make recommendations in autism-related services, including health care and education for children and adults.
The House and Senate unanimously approved the bill, SB199/HB384.
Executive Director of Autism Tennessee Babs Tierno said that, for her, the success of the legislation is a feeling of “relief more than excitement.”
“I feel like our families are being validated and treated as equal,” she said. “We’ve been working toward this for quite a while. It will gives us a direct line of communication where it feels like it was fragmented before.”
Tierno explained that the big- gest concern among families in Tennessee impacted by ASD is support for adults with autism, and that the council will guide those in leadership making decisions for those with ASD.
The council will also include six individuals diagnosed with autism or who are primarly caregivers of someone diagnosed with ASD.
“In the disability community we really believe there should be nothing about us without us,” said Sarah Sampson, director of communications for the Tennessee Disability Coalition. “It’s really important that when you’re talking about meeting the needs of someone that the person is at the table.”
The need for centralized council was outlined in The Tennessee Au- tism Plan, created in 2014 by a group including parents, educators and so- cial service providers. The group recommended creating a home in state government to assist interagency coordination for ASD service providers.
House Republican Caucus Chair- man Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, is a sponsor of the bill. “This legislation guarantees that Tennesseans with autism have the critical resources they need in order to lead healthy and productive lives. It also offers their families a support system that will help them cope when a loved one is diagnosed.”
This council will replace the autism spectrum disorder task force, created two years ago by lawmakers. Council members will not receive compensation.
Nationally, the Autism Society currently estimates that ASD affects 3.5 million Americans. ASD is the fastest growing developmental dis- ability in the United States, and it is estimated to cost at least $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD. The Tennessee council on ASD will also be responsible for coordinating state budget requests related to systems of care for individuals with ASD based on the studies and recommendations of this council.