State Rep. Harold Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, who also represents precincts in Northborough, joined his colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass comprehensive autism legislation that will help foster independence for autistic individuals and provide their families with financial tools for long-term planning.
The bill permanently establishes a state Autism Commission and creates new programs and enhances resources for individuals, families, and education professionals. The Autism Commission will be responsible for making recommendations and monitoring the implementation of policies to improve autism care in the Commonwealth.
“On so many levels Massachusetts has proven to be a leader in forward-thinking legislation,” said Naughton. “I thank Speaker DeLeo for his leadership and commend the efforts of my colleagues in the House to swiftly pass this comprehensive piece of legislation relative to autism. From the home to the classroom, this legislation will provide extended resources and services that will not only assist individuals with disabilities and their families, but will significantly improve their quality of life.”
One provision, widely referred to as the ABLE program (Achieving a Better Life Experience), is designed to encourage and assist families with financial planning for individuals with disabilities. Modeled on a federal bill pending in Congress, the tax-advantaged savings accounts can be used to help plan for disability-related expenses, enabling parents of children with disabilities, as well as older individuals with disabilities, to pay for long- term costs. Contributions to the account grow tax-free and distributions from the account for qualified disability expenses are also tax-free. Eligible costs include expenses for education, medical and dental care, job training, housing, transportation, financial management, assistive technology, home improvements and other uses.
The legislation also ensures that as the number of students with autism increases, school districts and teachers are able to provide effective education. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will develop a training program to help teachers educate those with autism in a manner that is individualized and allows them to stay in classrooms, if appropriate. The bill will also expand the IQ-based eligibility requirement for adult services provided by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) so that these services can be effectively extended to those requiring care.
Submitted by the office of State Rep. Harold Naughton Jr.