Virginia Autism Advisory Council talks education, employment

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — On Tuesday, the Virginia Autism Advisory Council met at the State Capitol.

The group is tasked with identifying resources, policies and services to address the needs of Virginians with autism spectrum disorders.

During the meeting, the council heard a presentation from John Paul Cimino, director of public policy for the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities. He presented the 2017 Assessment of Virginia’s Disability Services System focusing on trends in education and employment.

“Data suggests that students with disabilities are passing at higher rates,” Cimino told the council. “Interestingly, students without disabilities are also improving, so the proficiency gap between the two is increasing at the same time.”

The data also found that the graduation rate for Virginia students with disabilities is staying flat.

The assessment encouraged legislation targeting the disproportionate number of students with disabilities being referred to law enforcement.

“Students with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be identified as referred,” said Cimino.

The General Assembly took a closer look at the issue last year, passing HB 1924.

It directs the Board of Education to find alternatives to school suspensions.

“Our board has interest in continuing the discussion,” said Cimino.

As far as employment, more people with disabilities are being hired in the Commonwealth, but the employment gap with people without disabilities remains the same.

Some suggestions during the presentation included investing in integrated employment and expanding apprenticeship opportunities.

“If you have a job in high school, if you have work experience, you’re far more likely to get a job when you graduate,” Cimino told the council.

The assessment found that nearly three out of every ten students with disabilities are not employed or engaged in post-secondary education or training.

Click here to see the full assessment and suggested recommendations.

The council must submit its final report of recommendations by December 1, ahead of the next General Assembly session.