Proposed state bill could offer equal rights protection for those with autism

Kimberly Railey

As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, a new bill in the Illinois General Assembly could guarantee equal rights protection to individuals diagnosed with autism.

House Bill 3010 expands the definition of “disability” to include any mental, psychological or developmental disorder such as autism. This guarantees individuals on the autism spectrum receive equal rights to public facilities like gyms and theaters.

State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) passed the bill, his first since being elected in November, through the state House on March 29 to protect autism spectrum disorders as disabilities under the Illinois Human Rights Act.

“The diagnoses have made society grapple with the question of how best to care for, support and include this population,” Biss said. “I thought legislation to help work on that would be meaningful.”

Biss said the legislation is especially relevant due to the spike in autism diagnoses during the past 10 to 15 years. About one out of 110 children have an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

“There have been instances of kids getting thrown out of restaurants, or libraries or public transportation, and it’s worth putting this provision legally into the state,” he said.

Raising awareness about autism is extremely important, said Jonathan Slack, executive board member of Autism Speaks U at NU. Sometimes, people will give judgmental looks toward those with the disorder, he said.

“There was a sibling of an autistic child who actually made a button that said, ‘I’m not misbehaving. I’m autistic,'” the Weinberg freshman said. “He got tired of explaining to strangers why his sibling was acting the way he was.”

Slack said autistic individuals struggle to understand the norms of society, likening them to a playbook they never read.

“It creates a barrier for them to interact because they don’t understand the social rules they have to act by,” he said.

Others at the lower end of the spectrum cannot or have difficulty communicating verbally and will never live independently, Slack said.

The root cause of autism is in question by the scientific community.

“We’re kind of just playing a defensive game because autism is growing rapidly, and we’re not sure why that is,” Slack said. “There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done.”

The bill is currently being reviewed by the state senate, where state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) is the primary sponsor. The bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet, Biss said. If passed, the bill will be sent to the governor’s office for approval.

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