A new committee was appointed Tuesday to help develop county-level services and resources for families who have an autistic child.
“We’re going to look at what we do now, and what can be done,” said the chairwoman of the new county Autism Council, Clifton Park Supervisor Anita M. Daly.
The five-member council was appointed by Board of Supervisors Chairman George Hargrave, R-Galway, at the monthly county board meeting in Ballston Spa.
The appointment follows up on discussions throughout 2007 about what the county can do to help deal with autism, a developmental disability perceived to be on the increase.
The council members include two public officials who are also the parents of children with autism: Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, and Mary Beth Hynes, a Ballston town councilwoman.
Also on the council are Wes Carr, the county’s Youth Bureau director, and Catherine Duncan of the county Public Health Department.
“I’m honored the board would pick me to be on the council,” said Veitch, who is the son-in-law of state Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, and has autistic sons ages three and five. “I’m confident we’ll get something done.”
It was McDonald, a former Wilton town supervisor, who first approached the county supervisors last May, urging them to find a way for the county to help parents.
Autism is a term for a wide range of development disabilities that often include difficulty in communicating and with social interactions.
Public health experts say the number of children diagnosed with autism is growing, with McDonald saying one birth in 150 — and one in 94 among boys — now produces a child with autism.
Whether there’s actually more autism or the numbers are rising because of better diagnosis is a matter of debate.
The county is already involved with treating autistic children. It spends about $2 million a year on care for pre-school children with autism, generally on professional or institutional care; once they reach school age, that education becomes a school district responsibility.
“The county has a role to play,” said Daly, who is a special education teacher.
A mission statement approved by the county Public Health Committee in September says an autism council should be established, with the goal of developing new services and resources.
The council can help increase public understanding of autism and related disabilities, and serve as a resource to help families find trained professionals and services in their communities, according to the statement.
Daly said the council will hold its first meeting at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the county offices in Ballston Spa, and probably meet on a regular basis at least for the first few months.
Daly said she’s hopeful about getting state grant money for the council’s work.
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