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2017 Autism Law Summit: "A gathering of doers"

November 02, 2017

The Autism Law Summit is an annual "gathering of doers in the world of autism law and policy." From what started as a small meeting of a dozen advocates eleven years ago, the Autism Law Summit has grown to bring together over 230 autism service providers, lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, parents of children with autism, and self-advocates.

Hosted by Autism Speaks and the Autism Legal Resource Center, the 2017 Autism Law Summit took place on October 27-28 in San Diego, California. Advocates and leaders from across the country attended sessions on an array of disability-related topics including health insurance, Medicaid, and transition to adulthood. Speakers included members of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Team; Dan Unumb, Esq., President of the Autism Legal Resource Center; Gina Green, Executive Director of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts; Mark Claypool, CEO of Chancelight; Tim Courtney, COO of LittleStar ABA Therapy; Jenna Minton, Esq., President of Minton Healthcare Strategies; and many more remarkable leaders.

The conference kicked off with Lorri Unumb, Vice President of State Government Affairs for Autism Speaks, highlighting the advances in autism law and policy throughout the past year. Attendees were further briefed on the legal and regulatory developments in health insurance; state and federal mental health parity law; Medicaid including EPSDT, IDEA, ADA, and other audience interests.

Through panel discussions, attendees engaged in high-level discussions on topics pertinent to Autism Speaks' commitment to increasing early-childhood screening and intervention. A parent, a lobbyist, a state senator, and a state house member spoke on their collective experience expanding or fixing imperfect autism insurance mandates. Another panel featured lawyers, a state insurance regulator, and an activist autism parent discussing effective enforcement of autism insurance mandates and obtaining benefits in self-funded companies via mental health parity laws.

The Autism Law Summit also addressed key policy issues related to post-secondary education and transition to adulthood. Expert panels discussed the legal and clinical developments of employment and pre-transition services, with special attention given to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 to provide "pre-employment transition services" to students with disabilities. Moreover, potential strategies and models for housing and long-term supports for adults with autism were made a priority and considered by various leaders of the community.

Attendees even gained an international perspective of the challenges to autism services by listening to autism mom, Jana Gandalovicova, M.D. from the Czech Republic, who shared her journey to have behavior analysts and technicians legislatively recognized in a country where there were no behavior analysts, no university programs to produce behavior analysts, and no BCBA exam in the native language.

After many lectures, engaging stories, and exciting conversations with "rockstar" advocates, the Autism Law Summit ended with a celebration and award ceremony in which some remarkable members of the autism community were honored for their work. Particular appreciation was given to individuals whose work was instrumental in the passage of meaningful autism insurance coverage in Alabama earlier this year. Catey Hall and Lisa Riley each earned the title of "Parent of the Year" and Bama Hager received the Grassroots Award.

Four legislators were specially recognized as legislative champions in the celebration of Alabama's status as the 46th state to pass an autism insurance law. Senator Cam Ward, Senator Tom Whatley, and Speaker Mac McCutcheon were honored as Legislators of the Year and memorialized their friend and colleague, Representative Jim Patterson, who recently passed away, in his presentation as Legislator of the Year.

The following other awards were presented to:

Expansion Award 2017 – Josh Cobbs

Implementation Award 2017 – Julie Kornack

International Award 2017 – Jana Gandalovicova

Provider of the Year 2017 – LittleStar ABA Therapy

Rookies of the Year 2017 – Beth Mauch, Sandy Smith, Samantha Stewart & Kristin Sharbono

Sustained Outstanding Advocacy 2017 – Kristin Jacobson

With renewed energy, these autism leaders have returned home with a plethora of information and skills to benefit them in their continued advocacy efforts. We look forward to seeing their dedication pay off in the success stories to come in 2018!