Stakeholders’ Voices Heard on Severe Challenging Behavior

March 12, 2019

On Monday, March 11th, the Assembly Human Services Committee Chair Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11) invited guests to provide testimony regarding the challenges faced by individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions, including those with severe challenging behavior. Autism New Jersey’s Executive Director, Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, provided the opening testimony and was joined by parents, providers, and advocates.

Assemblywoman Downey presided over the hearing with compassion, detailed questions and affirmation that the needs of this population are urgent and demand thoughtful action. Parent advocates shared compelling stories that described their desperate and years-long attempts to access stabilization and treatment for their loved ones, and providers shared their difficulties developing capacity to deliver specialized services for this population. During the two-hour hearing, Chairwoman Downey, Vice Chairman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-31), and other legislators heard testimony regarding the lack of appropriate services, the misuse of unequipped systems such as hospitals and psychiatric crisis centers, and the ongoing challenges that families and providers face every day.

Advocates also provided recommendations to improve the system. There was a consensus that the development of inpatient and outpatient Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) programs that can ethically and effectively treat severe challenging behavior would both offer clinical benefit and be fiscally advantageous. With the Governor’s budget proposal to include $7 million in new funding for this population announced one week earlier, there was an air of hope in the room that these recommendations could be acted upon to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and mental health conditions.

All who provided testimony agree that as advocates we need to stay vigilant and keep this issue front and center. Autism New Jersey has made this a public policy priority and continues to focus our efforts on addressing this complex issue.