Autism Spectrum Disorders Task Force
During the 2009 legislative session, a bill was passed to convene an Autism Spectrum Disorders Task Force. Task force members included parents, doctors, a special education director, individuals representing advocacy agencies, and four bipartisan bicameral legislators. The original bill included representatives from several Minnesota departments, but including the departments gave the bill a fiscal note, and they were removed during the legislative process. The ASD Task Force convened in October 2009 and ended in June 2011.AuSM's representative, Dawn Steigauf, served as task force chair. The task force was required to submit a report with recommendations to the legislature by January 2012. As they worked, task force members learned that the State of Minnesota, unlike several other states, does not have a State Autism Strategic Plan. The task force was informed that when competing for grants, not having a plan has limited Minnesota's ability to be competitive.
Task force members worked on language for a bill to create a new task force to develop a state strategic plan, and legislative members authored a bill. ASD Task Force members agreed that the departments needed to be a part of developing the strategic plan.
Steigauf and other task force members testified at several hearings during the 2011 legislative season. Task force members worked with the departments and Governor Dayton's office to ensure that the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education, and Department of Employment and Economic Development were represented on the new task force. The bill was passed with broad bipartisan support.
The appointment process began in the fall of 2011, and the new task force convened in February 2012. Steigauf was appointed as a "parent representative" by the State Majority Leader. AuSM Board Member and State Representative Nora Slawik was appointed by the House Minority Leader.
NEW LICENSURE REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHERS
On December 30, 2001, Minnesota adopted teacher licensure requirements for teachers serving children with autism spectrum disorder. The licensure requires that: teachers have foundational knowledge about ASD as well as training in referral, assessment, and evaluation and appropriate instructional design. Teachers will also be required to hone their skills in collaboration and communication with parents and other professionals.
The passage of this ASD licensure ends a ten year advocacy effort by the Autism Society of Minnesota to require more training for teachers serving children with ASD. Efforts began in early 2000, when the Minnesota Board of Teaching was approached to explore the need for a license in ASD. As a result of that effort, the Autism Society of Minnesota conducted a survey of 1,200 parents and teachers to determine the feasibility of further advocacy work to get an ASD licensure. Given strong feedback from parents, the Autism Society formally pursued an ASD licensure request with the Board of Teaching in 2005, which lead to the beginning of a comprehensive review of special education licenses in 2008.
While the new licensure requirements don’t go into effect until September 1, 2012 and there will be a transition period for teachers already in the field, it is certain that over 14,000 students with ASD will begin to see the benefits of having trained teachers who understand the unique complexities of ASD.