ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signed into law two pieces of autism legislation sponsored by a local assemblyman.
On Friday, the governor signed a bill authorizing the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities to create a standardized identification card, and another mandating that early screening for autism be a recommended part of routine early-childhood pediatric exams.
Both bills were sponsored by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who has a 16-year-old son with autism.
“Hundreds and hundreds of families go through the exact same challenges that my family goes through,” said Santabarbara, who is chairman of the Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
“It’s a big win for my Autism Action Plan, and it’s a big win for people with disabilities,” he said. “This makes New York a leader in addressing the issues of people with autism.”
The autism ID card law will give families the option of having a state-issued card for presentation to law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical personnel that would explain that a person with autism might have limited communication skills or difficulty making eye contact or following commands. They may also engage in unusual or repetitive behavior that can draw the attention of law enforcement.
The ID card law is intended to compliment autism training for first responder legislation that passed earlier this year as part of the state budget. That budget includes $250,000 for the training.
“Whether it’s helping a family find a missing child or responding to an adult with autism whose behavior may be misunderstood, recognizing the signs of autism and knowing how to react is important,” Santabarbara said.
The early screening law provides that New York’s health commissioner will add autism screening to routine child health exams for children between the ages of 18 and 24 months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most children with autism aren’t diagnosed before the age of 3, but advances in testing are allowing for earlier diagnoses, Santabarbara said.
“That means they can’t take advantage of early intervention services that are available,” Santabarbara said. “The brain is developing, and there are services like speech therapy or physical therapy that are available.”
There are more than 3.5 million people with autism disorders living in the United States, and an estimated 128,000 New Yorkers with autism or other development disabilities, Santabarbara said. The incidence of autism, which disproportionately effects boys, is now one in 59 births, with the rate of diagnoses growing, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“There’s a crisis that needs our immediate attention, and with the passage of these critical bills, we are taking steps to address the challenges that thousands of families affected by autism are facing each day,” Santabarbara said.