Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council
1150 Hancock Street, Third Floor Suite 300 Quincy, MA 02169-4340

Testimony of Faith Behum To the Joint Committee on Education September 19, 2013 RE: HB 343
Good Morning Chairpersons and Committee Members: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you on House Bill 343: An act to improve augmentative and alternative communication opportunities for children with disabilities. My name is Faith Behum and I am a disability policy specialist at the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council. The Council is mandated by federal law to identify laws and policies that will improve the system of supports for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. In 2010, the Council recognized the potential of the Autism Commission to improve services and supports for individuals with autism in Massachusetts. Because of this, the Council loaned staff to the Autism Commission to assist the group in all its efforts. I had the privilege of staffing the Autism Commission and helping its members pull together their final report. The Autism Commission’s report was completed in March 2013. During the thirty months the Commission met, a range of issues affecting all individuals with autism were discussed. Individuals who are unable to verbally communicate or have limited verbal communication skills were included in these discussions. The Commission’s 10th priority reflected the need to increase availability of augmentative and alternative communication methods, devices, and services to these individuals. HB 343 was the bill that was drafted to address the recommendations under this priority. Research has stated that approximately 50% of the autism community has limited speech or are entirely unable to verbally communicate. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, during the 2011-2012 school year, 13,228 students with autism were enrolled in public Commonwealth schools. This means that upwards of 6,614 students with autism could have little to no ability to verbally communicate without any form of alternative or augmentative communication. The growing presence of students with autism in schools has made the need more apparent for understanding how to effectively teach this population. An individual’s inability to verbally communicate does not mean he or she has nothing to contribute. This is why teachers must understand how to properly operate augmentative and alternative communication so that all students’ voices can be heard. Many schools have augmentative and alternative communication devices but these devices often sit unused because teachers do not know how to operate them. This lack of knowledge creates an insurmountable hurdle between the student, the teacher, his or
(617) 770-7676 (Voice) (617) 770-9499 (TTY) (617) 770-1987 (Facsimile)

her fellow classmates, and the material that the student is expected to be absorbing while in school. Students with autism are entitled by federal and state law to a free and appropriate education. In instances where alternative and augmentative communication cannot be used properly, students with little or no verbal ability to communicate are not receiving the education he or she is entitled to. HB 343 would rectify this problem by requiring all individuals who apply for an initial Massachusetts educator’s license to receive training on how to use alternative and augmentative communication. This bill would also require professional development plans of current teachers to address the learning needs of students who are nonverbal or have limited speech. Most importantly, this legislation is intended to help ALL students who have no or limited verbal communication skills; not just individuals with autism. Because of this, more students with disabilities will not only receive the education they are entitled to but be active participants in gaining this knowledge and skills. In summary, the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council supports HB 343 and believes it can improve the educational services all students with limited or no verbal ability receive in Massachusetts public schools. We applaud Representative Bradley for introducing such an important piece of legislation and thank members of the Joint Committee on Education for your continued support on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. Thank You,

Faith Behum Disability Policy Specialist, The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council Staff, Massachusetts Autism Commission

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful