The autism news has been dominated, until recently, by the professional misconduct hearings of Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the "vaccine court" proceedings in the US and now the exciting Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory study offering a unified theory of autism causation. A less dramatic but interesting autism public policy development has taken place in the State of Mississippi where that state has established an Autism Spectrum Disorders division of its Mental Health department. This sounds mundane beside the dramatic developments mentioned above but it seems to show a real commitment by the State of Mississippi to address the autism health crisis in that state. Such a demonstration of commitment should not go without recognition.
In New Brunswick Canada our province does not have a separate Mental Health Department let alone an Autism Spectrum Disorders division of its Health Department. New Brunswick did have an interdepartmental review of its existing autism services which completed its efforts and published a report in 2001. There have been some very positive developments in pre-school interventions since then in New Brunswick. Education is now just beginning to provide a real education to some autistic students, but adult residential care and treatment remain abysmal. But many of the recommendations of that 2001 interdepartmental autism report in New Brunswick were literally ignored. Some them are now outdated.
The fundamental promise of the 2001 IDC Autism Report in New Brunswick, a commitment to provision of evidence based services is not fully respected even, unfortunately, in the provision of preschool autism interventions in New Brunswick. The consequences of that failure will not be borne by the interest groups that stubbornly insist on implementation of non-evidence based interventions in New Brunswick or the public servants and politicians who defer to those groups. The consequences will be borne by the autistic children who could have benefited from evidence based effective autism intervention but were denied the opportunity.
The chance of seeing a stand alone Mental Health department in New Brunswick is slim to none let alone an Autism Spectrum Disorders division of such a department. But it would be of great benefit to autistic children in New Brunswick if the 2001 commitment to evidence based intervention were honored and prevailed over ignorance and vested interests.
In the meantime the State of Mississippi is providing some interesting organizational lessons that might be worthy of study by the Province of New Brunswick and other Canadian provinces.
July 23, 2007
Division of autism established at DMH
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH) recently established a new division concentrating on autism in Mississippi. The Division of Autism Spectrum Disorders will initially focus its work around the newly formed Caring for Mississippi Individuals with Autism Task Force.
DMH was designated as the lead agency in HB 1267 which created the task force. The bill charges the group with reviewing the current state of services and practices and in turn filing a report making recommendations to the Legislature on its finding by Dec. 1, 2007. The recommendations made by the task force will address the areas of medical, educational and early interventions services. Further attention will be given to services across the lifespan of an individual and the preparation of professionals in the field for future service delivery.
Once the task force has made its recommendations, the Division of Autism Spectrum Disorder begins its long term function creating a Mississippi support system capable of serving Mississippians. This work will address the needs of individuals from birth throughout their life. The Division will work with other agencies to help improve existing services and create new ones.
Autism is the second most common developmental disability in the country second only to mental retardation. It is four times more common in boys than girls and present data has been offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that 1 out of every 150 children born is affected by an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is a neurological disorder. There is currently no known cause and no known cure. Autism knows no racial, ethnic, social boundaries, family income, lifestyle, or educational levels and can affect any family, and any child.