New Law to Generate Funds for Autism Research and Awareness

Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary (DHS) Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. today announced Illinois residents are now able to help fund Autism research and raise public awareness by purchasing official state autism awareness license plates. A portion of the proceeds from the license plates will be contributed to the Autism Awareness Fund. The new license plates are just one of many efforts of the Autism Task Force created by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2004 to increase support and education of this complex neurological disorder.

"Illinois has made significant strides in serving people with Autism and their families by supporting the work of the Autism Task Force," said Adams. "We've successfully increased federal funding for autism services and expanded the Autism Program which serves families of autistic children."

In April 2004, Gov. Blagojevich and DHS launched the multi-agency Autism Task Force (ATF) as a means of addressing issues presented by the growing number of children and adults being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As many as 22,000 children in Illinois have an ASD.

"The task force has made tremendous progress on early intervention services for children with autism, family support systems so that persons with autism may remain in their homes and communities, transition support from public school services and increased federal funding for autism services," said Dr. Adams.

One of the recommendations of the task force was the specialized license plate. Gov. Blagojevich signed the license plate legislation last year and it became effective January 1, 2008. Public Act 95-0226 (House Bill 2808) was sponsored by State Representative Patricia R. Bellock (R) Westmont and State Senator William Delgado (D) Chicago.

Applicants for the special license plate agree to have $15 of their $40 original issuance fee and their $2 of their $25 renewal fee to be deposited into the Autism Awareness Fund through the Secretary of State's office.

Revenue generated by the license plate sales for Autism Awareness will paid to the DHS for research grants, education and public awareness regarding autism and autism spectrum disorders.

"This is an exciting time for Illinois families affected by autism, and for those of us working to diagnose and treat autism spectrum disorders," said Georgia Winson, director of operations for The Autism Program, The Hope Institute for Children and Families. "The expanded funding we have received from the Department of Human Services has allowed us to create the largest network in the nation to provide services to families dealing with ASDs. Working in partnership with the University of Illinois-Chicago, Southern Illinois University and 25 other universities and agencies, we're making evidence-based services available in every region of the state. The added funding made available through the license plate program is certainly an important addition to autism initiatives in Illinois."

The Autism Task Force presented its annual report to the Governor last month. Accomplishments of the task force include:

Effective July 1, 2007, two Children's Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waivers were approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The waivers are authorized for an initial period of three years and cover residential supports in licensed child group homes and home-based supports for children who reside with their families. As a result of the waivers, an additional 686 children will receive services funded by Medicaid.

The Autism Information Clearinghouse is nearing completion. The Autism Information Clearinghouse will be a valuable resource for families in need of services. Initial design and content are being finalized and the Website hosted by DHS is nearly ready for launch early this year.

State funding for The Autism Program, led by The Hope Institute for Children and Families, doubled in the FY08 budget, from $2.5M to $5M. This increase will allow expansion of services in existing sites and add services in eight additional areas of the state during the last six months of FY08.

Many improvements were made in the transition of toddlers with autism from the DHS Early Intervention program to the Illinois State Board of Education's (ISBE) Early Childhood program. These improvements, including data sharing between DHS and ISBE, will ensure that no child falls through the cracks and all families receive the necessary supports.

In 2006, Gov. Blagojevich signed legislation creating the Autism Research Fund which was funded through tax checkoff. The fund currently has $56,000 for autism research.