Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts
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AFAM letter DDS rules that promote safety and dignity August 2016 (PDF)

It's time to take action on S. 708, the accessory apartment loan bill. Here is the write up from the Arc:

Senate Bill 708 is a bill that has been introduced in the State House in order to create the Disabled and Elderly Accessory Apartment Loan Program. The goal for the program is to help families, as well as other property owners, provide a safe and sustainable housing option for family members who have disabilities or are elderly.

It would allow the homeowner to take out a low-cost loan from the state to create an accessory apartment of up to two bedrooms, provided that a person with a disability or a senior citizen resides in the new unit. The bill permits family members and other property owners to obtain a loan lesser than $50,000 or half of the construction costs in the form of a fixed loan. The loan is [correction from Autism Housing Pathways: may be] given a 0% interest for a period of thirty years.

This arrangement may allow the individual to stay put when the caregiver moves on; it allows the family to provide respite; it allows the family to act as the Sec. 8 landlord when a voucher is obtained; and, when the family moves out, it can provide a source of rental income to help cover respite costs.

If passed, the bill will be a desirable and creative housing option for families in the Commonwealth. Currently, Bill S. 708 is being considered in the Joint Committee on Housing at the State House. Contact your state legislatures to voice your support. You can also contact the Chairs of the Committee of Housing - Senate Chair Linda Dorcena Forry (617-722-1150) or House Chair Kevin G. Honan (617) 722-2470). The Arc thanks you for your advocacy. For more information on this bill on any other legislation on our platform, please contact Maura Sullivan via email, or at 781 861-6270 ext 113.

To learn more about how S. 708 may benefit your family, please take a look at "Accessory Apartments: One Adult Living Option" on the Autism Housing Pathways website.

Autism Awareness Day 2017


Contact: Name: Leo Sarkissian, 781-891-6270, ext. 106, Cell 617-838-8832
Barbara L’Italien, 978-409-1818

August 1, 2014

AFAM and The Arc praise legislature’s passage of Autism Omnibus Bill

The Omnibus Autism Bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate but the branches’ versions differed so the bill returned to both branches in compromise form. The joint effort of The Arc and AFAM with the leadership of Barbara L’Italien, Dir. of Government Affairs, was essential to passage of this bill. Barbara took the lead on the efforts with a strong team including Amy Weinstock (Autism Insurance Resource1 Center), Julia Landua (MAC), Ann Guay and others. Other organizations in AFAM, chapters of The Arc, AANE and other groups showed their support. The bill was a combination of the pieces of legislation filed by Representative Garrett Bradley and Senator Jennifer Flanagan in January, 2013 as a result of the work by the Governor's Autism Commission. The legislation:
• Reestablishes the Autism Commission as a permanent and autonomous entity, staff included
• Two specific areas directed to study - the long-term needs for housing and employment - in addition to the areas of study and recommendations previously covered by the commission.
• DDS will now be directed to include in its eligibility guidelines the federal definition of developmental disability for people on the autism spectrum and those with Prader-Willi. This is a significant change as it will assist many whose functional needs are not reflected by their IQ score and who are now denied access to DDS services.
• Health insurance coverage for medically necessary treatments to Mass Health recipients for ABA behavior therapy and both dedicated and non-dedicated augmentative communication devices will now be funded for those through age 21 years.
• Public school special education teachers will have the option to attain an "Autism Endorsement" certification - a concentration in autism coursework and training to be leaders within their school communities.
• A tax-free savings account will be established -- patterned after the federal ABLE ACT legislation -- to allow all disabled families to save in a 529-style plan for expenses including education, housing, and any other needed supports and services. This section will not take effect immediately due to the need for federal participation.

The two other top priority bills of The Arc which passed this session are Real Lives, which places in statute self-determination for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and families; and National Background Check, which ensures a national safeguard for those hired to work directly with people served by DDS (Department of Developmental Services)

“We are so pleased with the results of this legislative session,” said AFAM’s Michael J. Borr. “These three pieces of legislation, as well as the data collection component in the IT Bond bill, epitomize what happens when organizations work in a cooperative manner. AFAM’s 12 member organizations and our advocacy partnership with The Arc of Massachusetts  personify that successful model of collaboration!”

Michael J. Borr, Chair, AFAM
Leo Sarkissian, Executive Director, The Arc Massachusetts


H4047- Relative to Assisting Individuals with Autism and other Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

Sec. 1 – Autism Commission:

• Establishes autism commission as a permanent entity responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
• Located within, but not subject to the control of, the EOHHS.
• 34 members including 2 House and 2 Senate members, representatives from various agencies, autism organizations, and other human service related organizations.
• Provides for an Executive Director to be appointed by the Commission.
• The Commission shall make recommendations and monitor the implementation of policies impacting individuals with autism spectrum disorders. They shall investigate range of services and supports necessary for individuals to achieve full potential across their lifespans.
• The Commission shall meet at least quarterly and shall file an annual report on or before March 1 with the Governor and the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and people with Disabilities and the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. The report shall include recommendations for regulatory and legislative actions necessary to provide or improve services or supports.
• Estimated annual cost $200,000

Sec. 2 – Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE)

• Similar to the “529” education savings accounts and modeled on a federal bill pending in Congress.
• Establishes state tax-advantaged accounts for families to utilize for services for disabled family members.
• Administered by Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA)
• Funding would help cover disability- related expenses, enabling parents of children with disabilities, as well as older individuals with disabilities, to put aside money to help cover anticipated long-term costs.
• Savings could be used for education, medical and dental care, job training, housing, transportation, financial management, home improvements, funeral and burial expenses, and other uses.
• Defines and sets criteria for “ABLE” qualified expense accounts.
• Contributions to the account would grow tax-free; withdrawals for qualified disability expenses would be tax-free.
• MEFA would file an annual report with the Department of Developmental Services , the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, and the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means. Report would include specific information on how the accounts are being used.
• MEFA will promulgate regulations on or before December 31, 2014.
• Costs are negligible.

Sections 3 – 20; 25 - 28 – Department of Developmental Services Eligibility
(#1 Priority of Autism Commission)

• The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) will no longer use an IQ-based eligibility requirement for adult services.
• Background: Many individuals with autism do not have an IQ lower than 70 (required for DDS eligibility for services )but do have significant functioning limitations (self care issues, mobility, unable to live independently, learning issues.)
• Expands DDS eligibility to all people with developmental disabilities who meet conditions for “substantial functional limitations.”
• Provides DDS services for people diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome.
• Uses the federal Developmental Disability Act definition of a developmental disability that takes into account a range of limitations in adaptive functioning skills. More than 40 states provide eligibility for adult services using this.
• Estimated costs to DDS: $5 Million – first year start up costs for services to clients. Costs will be 50% reimbursable through Adult Supports Waiver from FFP (federal financial participation). DDS Infrastructure Costs for additional personnel - first year $468 million; $1.8 million annually the second year out.
• DDS will file an annual report reviewing its progress made on implementation of this act on or before the first business day of February starting with February 3, 2015.

Sections 22 – 24; 32 – 33 – Autism Endorsement

• The Autism Endorsement is discretionary. School districts are not required to employ teachers with an Autism Endorsement, and teacher preparation programs are not required to launch Autism Endorsement training programs. However, educators and administrators in the field believe there is substantial teacher interest and demand in gaining these skills.
• Will help to ensure that the growing number of students with autism receive appropriate educational services by increasing the capacity of school districts.
• Despite the dramatic rise in the number of students with autism, teacher licensure requirements in Massachusetts do not address the specific competencies needed to educate children with autism and help them reach their potential.
• Requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to revise educator licensure regulations to provide a mechanism for special education teachers to receive an Autism Endorsement. The Board shall promulgate regulations specifying the subject matter knowledge, skills, and competencies required for such endorsement.
• Special education teachers will gain the skills needed to support general education teachers and to provide the specifically designed instruction needed to meet the unique and complex educational needs of students with autism in the lease restrictive environment.
• Provides a pathway for teachers who have previously been employed serving primarily students with autism, to receive an autism endorsement subject to demonstrating the required knowledge, skills, and competencies.
• Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall promulgate regulations on or before September 1, 2014.
• Projected implementation costs are negligible - discretionary costs will be subsumed by existing professional development funding or may be borne by individual teachers if they elect to pursue the Autism Endorsement. Increased district capacity may ultimately save money for school districts as they can serve students in district avoiding out-of-district placements.

Section 28 - Special Commission/ Employment Training and Employment Opportunities

• Establishes a Special Commission to make an investigation and study of employment training and employment opportunities for persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• Special Commission shall consist of 15 members, including 2 members of the Senate and 2 members of the House, as well as representatives of appropriate agencies and autism organizations.
• The Commission shall determine the current status of employment training and employment opportunities, including vocational training programs for teenager and young adults with ASD. The Commission will make recommendations for providing employment training and employment opportunities for the population of residents of the Commonwealth diagnosed with ASD.
• The Commission shall report to the General Court the results of its investigation and study and its recommendations by June 30. 2015.

Section 29 – Special Commission/ Housing Needs

• Establishes a Special Commission to make an investigation and study of the present, and future, statewide affordable supportive housing needs for the Commonwealth’s population of persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD.)
• Special Commission shall consist of 15 members, including 2 members of the Senate and 2 members of the House, as well as representatives of appropriate agencies and autism organizations.
• The Commission shall develop a statewide housing survey to determine the current status of affordable housing stock for adults with ASD and shall make recommendations. The Commission will review the rise in prevalence of ASD diagnoses, and shall make estimates of the number of children, aged 21 or younger with ASD to estimate the future need for affordable supportive housing. The Commission will recommend a plan-of-action to address need for housing.
• The Commission shall report to the General Court the results of its investigation and study and its recommendations by June 30, 2015.


Autism Awareness and Acceptance Day at the State House: April 15, 2014

“The Path to Successful Employment”

"No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." ---Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The numbers continue to skyrocket. On March 27th the Centers for Disease Control announced that 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys) are now being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children and adults with ASDs need help across their lifespan --from early intervention to education to vocational training and employment supports, to housing assistance. Please support the Priorities endorsed by Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM). AFAM's program priorities and legislative initiatives are critical to children and adults on the Autism Spectrum and their families.

2014 Legislative Priorities

H. 3715 An Act to Permit the DDS to Provide Services to Persons with Developmental Disabilities.
Lead Sponsors: Rep. Khan and Rep. Flanagan

This Bill expands eligibility to add persons with Developmental Disabilities consistent with the federal definition. Reflects the rise in autism, and will assist those with Prader-Willi, cerebral palsy and other conditions. Expansion subject to appropriation.

H.77 An Act establishing an integrated confidential data system among state agencies to track diagnosis, treatment, services and outcome of individuals with autism. Lead Sponsor: Rep. Bradley

This Bill will establish and maintain an integrated confidential data system among all state agencies that interact with individuals with autism. The data system will track diagnose, treatment, services, and outcomes of services accessed by individuals with autism.

H.1026 An Act relative to MassHealth providing medically necessary treatments for members diagnosed with autism. Lead Sponsor: Rep. Gregoire

This Bill would cover medically necessary treatments for members diagnosed with autism. Treatments covered will include but not be limited to Applied Behavior Analysis supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. MassHealth will take necessary actions such as seeking approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in order to cover the medically necessary treatment.

H.344 An Act to increase capacity of teachers to address the complex needs of students with autism. Lead Sponsor: Rep. Bradley

This Bill would provide an endorsement in autism which shall include both coursework and field experience for licensed special education teachers to acquire the competencies necessary to conduct assessments, develop appropriate individualized education programs, provide specially designed instruction and related services, and consult and collaborate with other educators, including general education teachers, in order to meet the unique and complex educational needs of students with autism in the least restrictive environment.

H.3364 An Act to promote housing creation for persons with disabilities. Lead Sponsor: Rep Lewis

This Bill addresses “Long-term subsidized housing for persons with disabilities”, any housing subsidized by the federal or state government under any program to assist the construction of low or moderate income housing as defined in the applicable federal or state statute, whether built or operated by any public agency or any nonprofit or limited dividend organization; in such housing, each individual resident with a disability shall be counted as one unit of housing regardless of the state or federal agency through which supportive services are provided, provided that the project meets Project Eligibility Criteria of the Subsidized Housing Inventory.

Budgetary Priorities for Fiscal Year 2015

Increase funding for the Division of Autism (including the Children's Autism Medicaid Waiver) - DDS Line 5920-3010. AFAM calls for an additional $2.2 million in FY15 to serve over 100 additional young children with autism at risk of institutionalization waiting for intensive in-home services. The Commonwealth’s Autism Commission recommended increasing the capacity of the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver to serve 500 children. We recognize that it will be necessary to phase in the Commission’s specific recommendation for the expansion of the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver. We propose increasing the capacity of the Autism Waiver to serve 500 children over 3 years. The Commonwealth will receive federal reimbursement for approximately 50% of the cost of these critical Waiver services. Providing an additional $800,000 to the seven state-sponsored autism support centers, which have been level funded over the past five years, will allow the centers to better serve the growing numbers of children with autism, many of whom do not currently qualify for other services and desperately need support, information and referral.

Increased Funding for Family Support - DDS Line Item 5920-3000. The dramatic growth in the number of children with ASD is resulting in a greater demand for Family Support. Funding for this program supports the seven autism support centers throughout the Commonwealth.  Thousands of families who receive family support use it to pay for respite and community programs for their children and young adults with autism. This program is a lifeline for many of these families. Please support the Governor’s appropriation of an additional $2.5 million dollars.

Increased Funding for the Turning 22 Program - DDS Line Item 5920-5000. There has been a dramatic increase in young people with severe disabilities "Turning 22" and moving from the locally funded school programs into the state funded DDS system. It is thought that the rising rates of autism are contributing to this increased need. Funding for this vital transition program must be increased to reflect the growing number of students with ASD turning 22. AFAM seeks funding of $15.2 million for the Turning 22 Program to ensure necessary services are available.

Increase Funding for Special Education Circuit Breaker - Line Item 7061-0012. Due to the economic crisis, state special education funding was reduced by approximately 40% in FY10 and FY11. Fortunately, the legislature was able to utilize federal stimulus money to make up the difference. When the federal stimulus funding ended in FY12, the legislature increased the circuit breaker line item by $80 million to $213 million. Despite this increase, more funding is needed if school districts are to be reimbursed for their special education costs at the 72% rate previously established. Moreover, funding for the DESE/DDS program is provided for in the Special Education Circuit Breaker Line Item. The DESE/DDS program enables families with children with severe disabilities requiring intensive supports to continue to live at home and avoid costly residential placements. Many of the children who receive these services have ASD. Currently 350 families use this service; 193 families are on a waiting list. AFAM seeks funding in the amount of $243.5 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker.

Special thanks to The Arc of Massachusetts for their assistance in the development of these written Budgetary Priorities.

The Massachusetts Autism Commission has released its long-awaited Report, which includes a wide range of findings and recommendations. You can read the full report or an executive summary by visiting the following website:

MA Autism Report 2013


This page was last updated 9 December 2016

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