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Published October 13, 2010, 12:00 AM

Autism report shows North Dakota services lacking

BISMARCK – Autism spectrum disorder services in North Dakota are inadequate, information is scarce, and training is needed for parents and professionals, a recent survey found.

BISMARCK – Autism spectrum disorder services in North Dakota are inadequate, information is scarce, and training is needed for parents and professionals, a recent survey found.

Results from the state Autism Spectrum Disorder Task Force’s spring survey were included in an 11-page report presented Tuesday to state lawmakers on the interim Education Committee.

Survey responses said North Dakota needs more qualified individuals to deliver evidence-based services, and people need to know how to access autism spectrum disorder services.

The survey responses are a snapshot, not an official sample, said JoAnne Hoesel, the task force chairwoman.

“But it did give us some insight into what people are thinking about this situation in the state,” she said.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, called the report “enlightening.”

“When you look at the Legislature’s history in dealing with autism, we have been responsive,” she said. “Having this study and having this report, we’ll take this seriously. We will take a real strong look at what we need to do during the legislative session.”

The 2009 Legislature created the task force to study autism spectrum disorder and develop a state plan. The task force includes people who work with those who have the disorder, such as state officials, a pediatrician, a behavior analyst, parents and educators.

Autism spectrum disorder is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The task force report pointed to a lack of accurate and localized information for parents, a lack of standardized training for screening, and long waits for diagnostic consultations.

Other barriers listed include inconsistent health insurance coverage for diagnosis and treatment, as well as limited service options for those who don’t qualify for developmental disabilities Medicaid waivers or the autism spectrum disorder waiver.

The report also said respite care is minimally available and insufficient to meet needs, and employment supports are lacking for individuals with the disorder.

Top survey suggestions and recommendations relate to training for educators, a resource list and school mistrust issues.

Hoesel said the role of the task force is to present the information and its recommendations to lawmakers.

Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City, said he expects more specifics will be available about what the state needs to do and how much it will cost by the time the Legislature begins in January.

“The problem here is that most families cannot deal with these issues with their own resources. There has to be help,” he said. “I do think we need to do what we can do to assist the parents of these young folks with these afflictions to get the proper treatment for them.”

A copy of the task force report can be found at http://northdakota.areavoices.com.


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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