Science Supporting Practice

In 2003, Estelle B. Richman, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), formed the Autism Task Force. Secretary Richman assigned then State Representative Dennis O’Brien as Honorary Chair; and administering Co-Chairs; Dr. Nancy Minshew, Dr. David Mandell and Ms. Nina Cote, MSS, LSW. The committee, along with more than 250 families, clinicians, educators and administrators, developed a plan for a new system for individuals living with autism and their families that would make Pennsylvania a national model of excellence in autism service delivery.
The task force was divided into 12 subcommittees, each of which focused on current practices, problems and potential solutions. The final report was developed December 2004, and included the following:


  1. The current mental health/mental retardation system is not structured to meet the needs of people living with Autism and other Chronic Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
  2. Pennsylvania is experiencing a shortage of qualified, trained professionals to evaluate, treat, educate and provide other services to people living with Autism.
  3. There are almost no community-based services for adults with Autism.
  4. There is a lack of coordination within and across the Multiple Systems that provide care for people living with Autism.
  5. The current system provides no incentive for delivering quality care.
  6. There is no cohesive set of policies and plans to provide consistent care and education to people living with Autism across the Commonwealth.
  7. The existing system is not able to address differences in individuals living with Autism.
  8. The current Education System does not meet the needs of people living with Autism.


  1. Create an Office of Disability within the Department of Public Welfare that has a Bureau or Division of Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders.
    February 7, 2007: Pa. Dept. of Public Welfare News Bureau In the state of Pennsylvania, autism services are administered through an office of disabilities. These offices recognize autism as a lifelong disorder that requires support throughout an individual’s life. Therefore service does not stop at age 21, it also provides a single entry point so that treatment and services are effectively provided.
  2. Create a consumer-led organization that provides information about autism services in multiple systems and advocates for the needs of individuals living with Autism.
  3. Develop an Autism-Specific Medicaid Waiver to allow for greater flexibility and creativity in providing services for this population.
    May 22, 2008: Pa. Dept. of Public Welfare News Bureau Governor Edward G. Rendell announced that Pennsylvania had been approved for a federal waiver program to provide home and community based services for adults with autism. The $20 million a year waiver program was approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The program is designed to serve up to 200 individuals 21 years of age and older with autism. <
  4. Situate Regional Autism Centers across the state that provide high quality services to individuals with Autism, train professionals in the area to assess and evaluate the needs of people living with Autism, provide education and supports to families, and create opportunities for research to continually improve treatment and supports. Autism Service,Education, Research and Training (ASERT)
    July 24, 2007
    By Sarina Rosenberg, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    Pennsylvanians living with autism f
    four to eight month waiting lists to be diagnosed and assessed by doctors. But a slice of nearly $23 million in state and federal funds dedicated this year to autism health care will cut that wait to three weeks, according to Dr. Nancy J. Minshew, a pediatric neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has been involved with autism research for more than 23 years. Dr. Minshew said she plans to use some of that funding to set up the state’s first regional autism center at UPMC to make doctors more readily available to treat those with autism and provide better care.
    Doctors at the center would diagnose and treat some of the estimated 75,000 Pennsylvanians suffering from autism, and train clinicians to deal with autistic workers and students. “Every dollar is precious, and the need is great in autism. It’s been such a neglected area for so long,” Dr. Minshew said.June 1, 2008: Pa. Dept. of Public Welfare News Bureau The commonwealth will fund three ASERT (Autism Service, Education, Research and Training) Regional Centers, as a direct result of the work of the Autism Task Force with a 2 year grant.”
  5. Develop creative mechanisms for blending and braiding funding between education and Medicaid to ensure coordinated, collaborative care across systems.
    July 10, 2008
    By David Wenner, The Patriot News
    “Gov. Ed Rendell has signed a bill that advocates for people with autism say will make the state a national leader in helping children with autism. Rendell signed the bill Wednesday at The Vista School in Hershey, which serves children with autism. After much wrangling during the past week, a bill finally passed both the state House and Senate. It requires health insurers to pay up to $36,000 per year toward medically necessary treatments of autism. Covered treatments include applied behavior analysis; a long-term therapy intended to teach people with autism to perform normal tasks. The bill requires insurers to cover medically necessary treatments for people up to age 21. Health plans covering small businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt.
    House Speaker Dennis O’Brien, R-Philadelphia, a leading advocate for autism coverage, had withdrawn his support for an earlier version of the bill, saying it had been gutted of its major strengths. But he supports the latest version, a spokesman said Thursday.”