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Alternative autism shelter study

Published (3/23/2012)
By Sue Hegarty
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Several parents of children with severe autism are asking lawmakers to allow more choices in the type of foster care settings for their children, under a pair of bills approved by a House committee.

Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) sponsors HF1683, which would instruct the human services commissioner to work with counties to create an autism-specific foster care license for providers with the training and skills to meet the special needs of children with autism.

Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Lake Elmo) sponsors HF2252, which would ask the commissioner to develop a plan to create a residential campus for persons diagnosed with autism up to age 21.

Both bills were approved by the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee March 21. Norton’s bill was referred to the House floor. Lohmer’s bill, which has an unspecified cost to develop the plan, was referred to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

Many of the parents said their children were put in group home settings when their needs could no longer be met at home, but that many group homes are not properly trained in autism management.

Dr. Sheryl Grassie, a parent of a child with autism, said there are several alternative models in other states that have been effective in providing a supportive environment that’s not available in smaller foster care settings, such as horse therapy and swimming pools. Grassie said the cost of the alternative settings is significantly less than the $175,000 to $350,000 annual cost for a four-bed facility.

Minnesota is known to have the highest incidence of people with autistic diagnosis among the states. There are about 400-600 children with the most severe cases (non-verbal and sensory sensitive) who may benefit from an autism-focused housing campus, according to Grassie.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) sponsors both companion bills: SF1412, a companion to Norton’s bill, awaits action on the Senate floor; and SF1882, a companion to Lohmer’s bill, awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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