As more and more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Virginia is paying more and more attention to this issue. This week two subcommittees of the Senate Finance Committee met jointly in Richmond to receive reports on the current status of education and services for children and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
In fact, early diagnosis is an important factor in improving outcomes for children. The earlier that services, support, and interventions can be provided, the better the child will do, with some not needing special education services when they enter first grade. Of course outcomes depend on the severity of the disorder and others will always need support. Nevertheless, early diagnosis and Intervention represents a very good use of resources but more progress needs to occur in this area. Some pediatricians are more likely to advocate a wait and see approach than to quickly administer a diagnostic instrument.
The Virginia Department of Education is making major strides in providing new and improved resources to local school divisions. Ready for distribution to schools are new guidelines, a guide for parents, model programs, and advice on developing transition programs for students.
Transitions from school to work are often very difficult for young people with autism spectrum disorder. Behavioral training and job support are necessary to make a successful transition to the world of work. A new program called Project Search currently being modeled in Richmond is proving to be very effective in this regard.
The experts who spoke to us said that the two most important issues are early diagnosis and intervention and the time of transition from school.
An important asset is the Virginia Autism Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. It provides onsite technical assistance, training, policy support, research, information and referral and a lending library.
Virginia Department of Education Training and Technical Assistance Centers are providing training to many persons including paraprofessionals as well as teachers and many others with interests in ASD.
Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]