Thursday, July 17, 2014

Survey Response: Bob Buckles, Candidate for Utah House 13

Bob Buckles
Candidates for the November 2014 elections were given the opportunity to respond to a few questions relating to autism. The following responses are from Bob Buckles, candidate for Utah House District 13.

Insurance Coverage:   SB57 was passed in the 2014 legislative session. It goes into effect on January 1, 2016, and among other things, will require individual and large group plans to cover a limited amount of behavioral therapy for autistic children through age 9. The bill has a sunset clause which will cause it to expire on January 1, 2019. 

Would you support renewal or expansion of SB57 if the costs prove to be manageable?

Bob Buckles:   
Yes, I would support renewal of SB57 if it is manageable. If the costs put excessive pressure on health insurance plan costs for those not requiring such services, we should look at other ways to provide assistance to autistic children through a program with state or federal funding to aid them in becoming successful members of our society.

WanderingWandering (or elopement) is an issue that affects around half of children with ASD, as well as many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are substantial costs involved with search efforts that often require emergency personnel. There are also promising technologies, such as smartphones, GPS, and Bluetooth, which can help with tracking these individuals. 

 Would you support efforts to:
  • better understand the extent of the wandering problem in Utah
  • promote training for emergency personnel
  • identify technological solutions and help make them affordable for caregivers
Bob Buckles I am not that familiar with this issue, but have read the references you provided. I am also aware that police and other emergency personnel are generally lacking in training and procedures for dealing with people suffering from mental disorders and that has resulted in avoidable confrontations, violence and incarceration of juveniles and adults.

I am aware that Alzheimer’s and dementia are becoming an increasing problem as modern medicine allows us to live longer but not necessarily with all our mental faculties intact. Urban isolation makes dealing with these issues more difficult and we need to address the problems with technology and social structures that allow for people who are not capable of living independently.

Education: Education is a priority for many UAC members. Kids on the spectrum often require special education resources.

What do you see as the current state of the Utah education system, including Special Ed, and what steps would you support to improve it?

Bob Buckles:   
My wife worked as a Special Education teaching assistant for several years, making me more familiar with system. My impression is that the Utah education system, like many parts of our society, is not well structured for dealing with children that have significant mental impairments. First, partly because of “No Child Left Behind” legislation and a push for unconditional mainstreaming, there is a tendency to try to force children to get by in the system with minimal accommodations for their special needs. Second, the resources are limited and often not well directed for making them self-sufficient in later life (versus trying to push them academically just enough to keep them in the mainstream system a few more years.) We need to identify children that cannot progress in the normal school environment early and develop effective strategies to give them the life skills appropriate to their age, capabilities and level of disability. 

I am aware that much of the funding for Special Education is provided by the Federal government and is likely to be reduced in the coming years due to budget sequestration and the national Republican push to reduce all social services funding. Unfortunately, if we do not increase overall funding for Utah education, Special Education funding will suffer along with all other programs. My first emphasis is to improve funding for education in Utah in general. This will require a substantial increase in revenues through additional taxes. If Utah citizens are not willing to spend more on education, there is every reason to expect that Special Ed programs will deteriorate even faster than baseline education programs.

Housing and Employment: When autistic people transition out of the public school system, many of them need help with housing and employment. According to the 2013 Annual Report of the Utah Division of Services for People with Disabilities, Over 5,000 Utahns received services, and 80% of them had an intellectual disability. Another 1,892 Utahns are on the waiting list.

Would you support steps to improve housing and employment opportunities for individuals with autism?

Bob Buckles:  
In principal, yes, I would support steps to improve housing and employment opportunities for individuals with autism. My main concern with such programs is whether they are efficient and effective. They must be reasonably cost efficient versus the alternatives, which we know often include incarceration or expecting family members who could otherwise be working to leave the workforce to care for those who cannot live independently. They must be effective, in that they improve both the living conditions of the individual, and how that individual interacts with the broader society. I believe that modern urban society is very hostile to those who have difficulties interacting and we need to create safe environments that address their needs with reasonable accommodations. Based on a recent Radio West program discussing autism, my impression is that many autistic adults can be gainfully employed if provided with the right job opportunities and supervised by employers who understand and can address their special needs.