(TRENTON) — Legislation championed by former Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., and sponsored by Assembly members L. Grace Spencer, Dr. Joan M. Voss, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John S. Wisniewski to further help New Jersey combat its highest-in-the-nation autism prevalence was signed into law Friday by Acting Governor Stephen M. Sweeney.
“Autism does not suddenly end or go away when an individual turns 18, and it’s high time our laws reflected that fact,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “We have a responsibility to continue providing adults with autism the care they need to lead meaningful, productive lives.”
The first law (A-4225) permits adults with autism to voluntarily place their names on a new state registry to help New Jersey improve its planning and services for those with autism.
The second law (A-4226) revises the state’s Law Against Discrimination to specifically prohibit discriminatory acts against people with autism.
“These laws provide yet another tool for autistic individuals and their families to use to better their lives,” said Dr. Voss (D-Bergen), who’s son has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum.. “Thanks to our continuing efforts over the past two years, individuals of all ages and at all places on the autism spectrum have a better chance to lead meaningful, productive and independent lives.”
A Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study based on research in 14 states found one in every 150 children diagnosed with autism, with New Jersey having the highest rate in the country with one in 94.
“Failure to provide services for adults on the autism spectrum will result in a huge financial burden on New Jersey taxpayers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “These are common sense changes that will benefit not only individuals on the spectrum and their families, but taxpayers as well.”
The new laws stem from recommendations of the Adults with Autism Task Force, created under a law sponsored by Roberts.
The first amends the state’s Autism Registry law to include adults with autism on an opt-in basis, enhancing future planning and ensuring the proper delivery of services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Adults will be able to register themselves or be listed by their health care service providers.
Allowing adults to register will give experts access to a wider range of information, enabling them to better analyze contributing factors that may be responsible for New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation autism rate.
The second specifies that the state’s Law Against Discrimination — which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations — includes those with autism spectrum disorders.
“Providing medical professionals with greater access to information on individuals with autism is as important as helping individuals on the spectrum themselves,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “If doctors and researchers are ever to have a chance of curing autism, they must first understand what causes it.”
“We’ve taken several strong steps to improve the lives of those with autism and developmental disabilities, but our fight is constantly evolving and our work against these lifelong disabilities is never done,” said Roberts. “While much of the focus has been on helping children, we must also focus on the growing need to provide a higher quality of life to adults with autism and developmental disabilities.”
Under the leadership of former Speaker Roberts, the Legislature and Gov. Jon S. Corzine have already shepherded into law numerous measures to raise awareness about autism and encourage early diagnosis and early intervention, including:
- Making New Jersey the 15th state to require health insurers to cover treatments for autism and other developmental disabilities. It was sponsored by Roberts, Voss and Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson);
- Establishing a centralized statewide autism registry. It was sponsored Assemblyman John F. McKeon (D-Essex), Roberts, Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-Cumberland), and Voss;
- Training teachers in autism awareness. It was sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Voss, Roberts, now-Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and former Sen. Ellen Karcher (D-Monmouth);
- Improving New Jersey’s system for detecting symptoms of autism in young children. It was sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway, M.D. (D-Burlington/Camden), Roberts, Vainieri Huttle, Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald (D-Camden), former Assemblyman Michael Panter (D-Monmouth), Weinberg and Karcher;
- Creating a new expert panel to study the needs of autistic adults. It was sponsored by Roberts, Voss, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), McKeon, Weinberg and Karcher;
- Extending funding for autism medical research and treatment. It was sponsored by Roberts, Voss, Greenwald, Whelan and Weinberg;
- Restructuring the Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. It was sponsored by Roberts, Voss, Schaer, McKeon, Weinberg and Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex); and
- Establishing a developmental disabilities awareness program for first responders. It was sponsored by Roberts, Assemblymen Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester), Frederick Scalera (D-Bergen), Weinberg and Sen. Robert M. Gordon (D-Bergen).
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