April is designated as “Autism Awareness Month,” and the state has been adapting its services and laws to better serve its autistic residents.
ASD is defined as “a group of complex and lifelong neurodevelopmental disorders which are characterized by varying degrees of pertinent deficits in two areas: (1) social communication and social interaction impairment and (2) repetitive/restrictive behaviors.”
One Texas lawmaker, Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), has spoken openly about having Asperger’s Syndrome.
“[B]eing on the spectrum is not necessarily a barrier to leading a productive and successful life,” Cain said on the floor of the Texas House in 2019. “In fact, being on the autism spectrum can be a valuable part of our identity. I say ‘our identity’ because I too am one of the millions of Americans on the autism spectrum,” he added.
The state Health and Human Services (HHS) Department has established the Children’s Autism Program which offers applied behavioral analysis to children through local therapists and programs.
Children with a documented ASD diagnosis, between the ages of three and 15, and living in Texas are eligible for the services.
The state has also established the Texas Autism Research and Resource Center, which “supports Texans on the autism spectrum and their families by connecting them to services and resources available in their community.”
One such resource, offered through the Texas Workforce Commission and for which persons with autism may qualify, is the vocational rehabilitation program. It is designed to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain, and retain employment.
In 2019, Texas passed some significant laws to help drivers with ASD. The “Driving with Disabilities” initiative is meant to help improve interactions between law enforcement officers and drivers with autism.
A driver who wishes to may include an optional code on his or her driver’s license that will alert a law enforcement officer that the person has a communication impediment. This code can only be included if supported by a physician’s statement.
Additionally, Senate Bill (SB) 976, authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler), allows a motor vehicle to be registered with the disclosure that its driver has a communication disability. This information will be transmitted to a law enforcement officer before approaching the vehicle he has pulled over.
Online training has also been developed for law enforcement officers to better understand the communication impediments that may make the interactions more challenging.
Jennifer Allen, who has a son with Asperger’s and who worked to get SB 976 passed, praised the measures and believes they should be passed in other states.
When asked for advice for those who want to support families who have children with ASD, Allen told The Texan, “Know that each family (and person) situation is unique, therefore the needs vary from family to family. Support may come with patience, kindness and an understanding.”
She emphasized that these families are often dealing with significant struggles so she suggests to “leave judgment at the curb” and offer an encouraging word and maybe even a respite weekend.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.