Autism Task Force: AOTA President’s Contribution to California’s Autism Law


By Stephanie Yamkovenko

When California became the 28th state to enact autism insurance reform legislation in late 2011, Governor Jerry Brown convened an Autism Advisory Task Force to assist with implementation of the law, which went into effect on July 1, 2012.

Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, president of The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), was nominated and accepted to serve on the task force, which began its work on February 1, 2012. Read more about Clark's nomination in a 2012 AOTA article.

Last month the task force submitted its final report to the California governor and legislature with recommendations on the necessary qualifications, training, and supervision of providers. Read the report here.

"Dr. Clark was instrumental in the development of the Autism Advisory Task Force Framework, as well as in her participation in work group meetings, which contributed to the consensus achieved in the recommendations presented in the final report submitted to the governor and legislature," says Patricia S. Nagaishi, PhD, OTR/L, president of the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC).

OTAC and AOTA will continue to work together to monitor the status of the task force's recommendations and the implementation of the law, S.B. 946.

The law requires health insurers to cover behavioral health treatments for children with autism and pervasive developmental disorders. "S.B. 946 includes occupational therapists among the licensed practitioners who are qualified autism service providers," says Nagaishi. "While the Task Force report also included recommendations for the licensure of behavioral health treatment providers who currently are not licensed, occupational therapy practitioners already provide interventions that address the behavioral health needs of individuals with autism that benefit their ability to participate in everyday activities and occupations."

Clark's participation in the task force not only ensured that occupational therapy was represented, but also provided opportunities to form relationships with key autism stakeholders in California including health plan representatives, autism experts and advocates, behavioral intervention practitioners, and researchers. "It was a privilege to interact with such a distinguished panel and to be part of a process through which individuals with diverse and conflicting perspectives were brought to consensus," says Clark.

With the focus on behavioral health treatments in the law, Clark had the opportunity to articulate occupational therapy's evidence-based interventions with autism and behavioral health. "Applied behavior analysis is not the only intervention approach to help individuals with autism," says Nagiashi. "It is important for occupational therapy practitioners to articulate and document the unique and valuable role we play in the lives of individuals with autism."

"I learned so much from this experience: the importance of being succinct, the ways one word can change the intent of a sentence, and the importance of understanding that most individuals, although they may initially passionately disagree with others, are acting in accord with their belief that they are serving the public good," says Clark.

Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA's Web editor.
March 21, 2013