Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, has been appointed by state Senate Pro-Tempore Darrell Steinberg to co-chair a task force to investigate the equitable distribution of autism services to diverse communities in California.
In appointing Aguilar-Gaxiola, Steinberg noted that disparities exist in providing autism-related services to communities that are disadvantaged and lack education and to Latino and African-American communities.
"I'm honored that Sen. Steinberg asked me to co-facilitate the task force on this critically important initiative, which is charged with infusing issues of diversity and equity into the individualized program plan process," Aguilar-Gaxiola said. "The ultimate goal is to improve the lives of children suffering from autism and related developmental disorders and their families."
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social relating, language, and by the presence of repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, typcially emerging before the age of 2. In California, individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities are eligible for state-sponsored services through 21 regional centers. The regional centers provide services to individuals with disabilities that occurred before their 18th birthday including consumers with autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
The services include assessment and diagnosis, counseling, genetic counseling, early intervention services, and the purchase of direct services included in consumers' individual program plan. The individualized program plans outline the types of services that clients, called consumers by the regional centers, are eligible to receive. Steinberg appointed the committee following testimony on April 30 before the Senate Select Committee on Autism & Related Disorders.
"The testimony reveals disturbing details of inadequate services in underserved communities. Autism doesn't recognize demographic boundaries, so neither should the help that's available," Steinberg said.
"These inequities call for immediate scrutiny and urgent corrective actions, so I've established the Taskforce on Equity & Diversity for Regional Center Autism Services, to provide specific recommendations to ensure fair and equal access to autism-related services," he said.
Aguilar-Gaxiola is a member of the scientific advisory committee of Autism Speaks, one of the nation's leading autism advocacy and research organizations. He will co-lead the task force with Areva Martin, an autism advocate and co-founder of the non-profit Special Needs Network. Other task force members will include autism advocates, consumers, and multidisciplinary experts from academia, autism service providers and the regional centers.
"The taskforce is comprised of a cadre of committed consumers, families, advocates, providers, policy makers and researchers all of whom are experts in the field," he said.