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Nebraska: Senate bill would require autism prescreening for kindergarten

Like any new father, Scott Schafer counted his newborn son's fingers and toes, and made sure the baby could see and hear. What Schafer didn't anticipate was the obsessions his son would develop, or the struggles he would have with fine motor skills, and the eventual behaviors that would create friction at school. "Autism was not on my radar screen," Schafer told the Legislature's Education Committee on Tuesday. It took several more years until Schafer's son was diagnosed with the developmental disorder, he said. In that time, the relationship between parents and child, and the family and the school began to fray. "We're trying to catch up, but I ask what if we would have caught this sooner?" Schafer said. A bill (LB997) introduced by Sen. Jen Day of Gretna would require children to be screened for autism before they could enroll in kindergarten, adding the evaluation to existing physical and vision screenings. The screenings would be done by a physician, physician's assistant, advanced practice registered nurse, school psychologist or other trained individual. Parents could opt their children out of the screenings. While many children are screened for autism between 18 and 30 months of age, typically at a routine doctor's appointment, Day said there are some families with children who haven't been screened. In some instances, those children are later labeled as developmentally delayed rather than on the autism spectrum, which can put them at a further disadvantage in obtaining an individualized education plan from their school. "We want to ensure Nebraska is providing children with the appropriate services they need to thrive," Day said. "This is the least-intrusive option for kids who might have fallen through the cracks." Katy Menousek, a licensed psychologist at Boys Town, said in some instances, parents might not be aware that their child has autism…. Required screenings could ensure those students access to the right kind of services to help their language and skill development, Menousek added. The Nebraska Education Collaboration, which encompasses several school groups, opposed the bill for setting another requirement for students to meet before enrollment. Day said the bill was modeled off a practice done by Millard Public Schools, and said after the hearing she was willing to work with education groups to resolve any concerns they have. She also said she introduced the bill to start a conversation in the Legislature about autism, those diagnosed with the developmental disorder, as well as how it's treated. The committee did not take any action on the bill Tuesday.



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