Thursday, August 20, 2009

Local Leader Testifies Before Senate Regarding Program to Help Autistic Students Receive Post Secondary Education

My friend David Miller has been a fierce advocate for autistic children. One of the big projects that he has been working on is making sure that people with autism are able to obtain the skills to enter the 21st Century job market. In order to help do that, Dave is a co-founder of the ”Community College Consortium on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities.” It was through that role that he recently testified before an appropriations subcommittee about the need to properly fund programs that help autistic students receive a post secondary education.

I've posted the video of his testimony, but here are some of the main points that I believe are worth paying attention to from his written testimony.

**There is a program at Taft College, the Transition to Independent Living Program (TIL), which has a curriculum that teaches both life and vocational skills including: Meal planning and preparation, Housekeeping, Laundry, Money Management, Personal Safety, Internet Access and Safety, Personal Advocacy, Individual Rights and Responsibilities, Work Ethic and Work Experience. This program has had an enormous amount of success. The program tracks it’s graduates for 10 years after they graduate and here are some of the statistics about how successful they have been.
  • 95% of TIL graduates live independently
  • 93% are competitively employed (National average is 14%)
  • 93% receive no financial assistance from other agencies or their families
  • 97% report that they are satisfied with their adult life.
  • 30 hours of home assistance is provided on average each month (State average is 88 hrs per month.
** As Dave points out, this program not only allows the students to have a good quality of life but it also ends up saving the taxpayers a lot of money in the long run. In his written testimony, Dave said "It is estimated that the above savings in home assistance services alone saves the citizens of California over $110 million over 40 years not counting the taxes TIL graduates pay as well as services that they consume. Obviously, “quality of life” has no price tag."

** The rate of students with autism is growing. Again from his written testimony, "In my own Commonwealth of Virginia a ten year study of autism prevalence from 1992-2003 pursuant to the reporting requirements of the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reported a 519% growth rate of autism from 1992-2003 with a 17% annual growth. That study is now six years old and the numbers of children with autism reported in Virginia’s public schools has almost tripled since 2003."

**Unfortunately, many of these students leave secondary school without the skills necessary to live independently or to enter the 21st century job market.

Even though the investment in these programs will result in saving the taxpayers money, I'm sure many people are wondering how much the program will cost. Here's a brief portion of what Dave had to say about that topic.
While not perfect, Section 767 of HR 4137 (the Higher Education Opportunity Act) authorizes the Secretary of Education to award five year grants to support model demonstration programs that “promote the successful transition of students with intellectual disabilities into higher education.

Although no specific amount is authorized in PL-110-315, Chairman Kennedy recently wrote a letter to you Chairman Harkin and to you Senator Cochran requesting funding for this program in the amount of $35 million for FY 2010. [...]

It is our understanding, Mr. Chairman and Senator Cochran, that your subcommittee has allocated approximately $15 million for this program. We are appreciative of your efforts particularly given the fiscal demands of your subcommittee in this time of economic hardship.

We hope that this amount at a minimum be retained in conference and that you consider allocating this amount, consistent with Chairman Kennedy’s letter, on a 3 to 1 basis so that community colleges and universities are able to compete for these funds separately.
I most definitely agree with Dave here. These funds should be allocated so that programs that help students with autism can be implemented. These programs would allow many people to obtain the skills necessary to live independently and hold down a job that pays a living wage -- something that everyone should be given the opportunity to do. I commend Dave for his work on the topic and urge the Senate to implement his recommendations.

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