By State Senator Cam Ward
Despite the political distractions, the Alabama Legislature has worked hard this session to enact policies to move our state forward.
This session, the Legislature unanimously passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), the largest education budget since the recession, and it gives a much-deserved pay raise to teachers and support personnel. As a conservative, I do not believe more money necessarily equals better outcomes. Yet there is no doubt Alabama must pay our teachers a high-enough salary to compete with neighboring states and private sector employment for bright college graduates entering the workforce.
In the Education Trust Fund, the Legislature also made a smart move to invest $288,900 in autism research and treatment through the establishment of local autism regional centers, which will be focused on care for rural areas.
According to the Autism Society of Alabama, one in sixty-eight Alabamians are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Depending on where you are on the spectrum, autism can be a debilitating condition. A person (adult or child) with severe autism has trouble picking up on social cues and has difficulty interacting with other people. Children with autism have trouble relating to schoolmates and teachers, while autistic adults can have difficulty navigating complex social interactions in the workplace.
Thankfully, treatment can gradually improve social skills for those on the autism spectrum. Over time, children and adults on the spectrum can learn to pick up on non-verbal cues and figure out how to read what people are saying in their non-verbal communication: a skill intuitive for most people, but which is so essential for healthy relationships!
I have had personal experience in dealing with someone on the autism spectrum. There are many dedicated health care professionals in our state working to help kids and adults with autism. But there are gaps in the system, especially for families in rural areas where people often have to travel many miles to see any kind of health care specialist. The establishment of autism regional centers will help fill that gap for the rest of the state.
Fittingly, April is autism awareness month, and I am thankful the Legislature made the right call last week to fund these new research centers to provide additional help for our friends, neighbors, and relatives affected by autism.
Republican Senator Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson Counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.