Public Policy and Legal Issues

When parents discover they have a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, they naturally seek professional help. Some find help from private practitioners. Others find public programs that provide assistance. In many cases, even private programs are supported by public policies established decades ago at the federal level and at the state level, when families who had children with disabilities joined hands with professionals and political leaders to create policy that would bring aid to parents who had children with special needs.

Public or social policies are the rules and standards by which scarce public resources are allocated to almost unlimited needs (Gallagher, 1994). Written social policies should provide the answer to four major questions:

  1. Who shall receive the resources or services? (eligibility)

  2. Who shall deliver the services? (provider)

  3. What is the nature of the services? (scope)

  4. What are the conditions under which the services will be delivered? (environments and procedures)

If the answers to these four questions are presented with clarity and precision, the problems of legal interpretation are reduced. However, the last three questions represent substantial policy issues for children with autistic spectrum disorders. The phrases “scarce resources” and “almost unlimited needs” guarantee a continuing struggle to obtain those needed resources by those concerned with the well being of children with autistic spectrum disorders and their families.

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