Legislative and Administrative Advocacy

The Autism Center prioritizes systems change – through legislative, regulatory, administrative or legal remedies – in order to have the greatest impact affecting the most children. Our recent legislative victories include The Autism IEP Act, an important provision of the Massachusetts special education law that includes protections for students who have a diagnosis of Autism. Additionally, The Autism Center helped to establish the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver, providing intensive in-home services for children on the autism spectrum. The Autism Center’s work led to the enactment of Act to Improve Teacher Training in Augmentative and Alternative Communication, ensuring that special education teachers are adequately prepared to educate children who are nonverbal or have limited speech. Read more about our successful advocacy efforts in the Legislation Success section of our website. Additional information and resources related to laws that effect students with Autism are available in the Resources section of the Autism Center.

Advocacy in Underserved Communities

The Autism Center has developed a unique and effective way to empower parents within communities. By combining case advocacy, parent organizing, and administrative advocacy, The Autism Center has created change within districts for students with Autism. 

Children with autism from diverse ethnic and linguistic communities frequently face additional barriers. Through our outreach to Haitian families in Boston and Latino families in Lawrence since 2005, our experience has demonstrated the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the work necessary to effectively reach these underserved families. By adapting our advocacy strategies based on cultural and linguistic needs, The Autism Center has reached communities. Through the practical experience we have gained over the past 10 years, we adapted innovative approaches and methodologies to better provide our educational training and advocacy services to these families. The Autism Center has recently completed a manual of best practices and lessons learned when working with Haitian families for distribution in Massachusetts and nationwide. You can download The Autism Center’s School Success for Haitian Children with Autism manual in the Publication section of our website. 

In both Boston and Lawrence, The Autism Center’s advocacy has created significant changes within each district. The center continues to advocate for cutting edge services, including Augmentative and Alternative Communication, based on the unique needs of students with autism. 

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Through work with leading experts in the field, The Autism Center has learned that communication is the key that can unlock a door for many students on the autism spectrum. The Autism Center works tirelessly to advocate for increased access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication for students on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Center’s work led to the enactment of Act to Improve Teacher Training in Augmentative and Alternative Communication, ensuring that special education teachers are adequately prepared to educate children who are nonverbal or have limited speech.

The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship Program

The Autism Center invites young adults 18-26 on the Autism Spectrum to apply for an innovative Young Adult Leaders Fellowship which provides opportunities to learn the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of other youth with disabilities. The Fellowship is a partnership between Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston. The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship consists of one year part-time advocacy training under the supervision of the Autism Project Advocate and senior attorney. A small stipend is provided.

Please help us get the word out to young adults who might be interested in the Fellowship. We would appreciate it if you would forward a link to this page so that others can be informed about this exciting opportunity.

Please feel free to contact Catherine Mayes  (617) 357-8431 ext. 241  cmayes@massadvocates.org with any questions.

The Autism Commission

The Autism Center serves on the statewide Autism Commission. The Autism Commission was established by Legislative Resolve and approved by Governor Patrick on April 22, 2010. It was charged to make an investigation and study relative to individuals with autistic spectrum disorders, which shall include, but not be limited to Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism and pervasive development disorder and to investigate and study the range of services and supports necessary for individuals to achieve their full potential across their lifespan. The Commission consists of 31 members appointed by the Governor. The Autism Commission Report was released in a ceremony in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House. A culmination of more than two years of work, the Autism Commission was comprised of members of the legislature, state agency heads, educators, autism experts, advocates and parents. The Autism Commission Report provides an overview of services currently available in the Commonwealth to children and adults with autism, identifies gaps in services and makes concrete recommendations as to how to better meet the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. The full report is available in the Publications section of this website.

Addressing Bullying of Children with ASD

Massachusetts Advocates for Children provided leadership and public awareness efforts to support the autism anti-bullying bill, which was incorporated into the state’s omnibus anti-bullying bill signed by the Governor. The law ensures that IEP Teams address bullying of children on the autism spectrum, specifically focusing on the skills necessary to help individual children avoid and respond to bullying, harassment, or teasing. The bill also requires IEP teams to address bullying as it impacts individual students with social skills development or when the student’s disability makes him or her vulnerable to bullying harassment, or teasing the IEP must address the skills an proficiencies needed to avoid and respond to bullying, harassment or teasing. Coupled with provisions requiring school-wide bullying prevention programs, it will help to effectively mitigate the instances and effects of bullying for children with autism as well as other disabilities.

In the fall of 2009, nearly 400 parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) responded to an online survey with shocking accounts of how their children are bullied persistently and sometimes severely in cities and towns across the Commonwealth. The Autism Center reported the findings in a November 2009 publication, Targeted, Taunted, Tormented: The Bullying of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. (Available in the Publications section of our website).