Developmental disability assistance measure given the green light

Long awaited changes move forward and garner a wide range of support

Californians impacted by various developmental disabilities as young adults are one step closer today to gaining eligibility for the services they need. Senate Bill 283 (SB 283), introduced by Senator Scott Wilk, R - Antelope Valley, redefines “age of onset” for access to regional center disability services from the current age of 18, to a revised age of 22. The bill unanimously passed the Senate Human Services Committee.

“California’s law has not kept current with modern science. Science tells us the brain continues to develop at least until a person is 22 years of age, so California law should match that,” said Wilk. “For 40 years the Federal government has used age 22 as the onset threshold for services. It is about time we get our act together and make this right.”

Current California law defines a developmental disability, such as autism or traumatic brain injury, as one that originates before an individual attains 18 years of age; continues, or can be expected to continue, indefinitely; and constitutes a substantial disability for that individual. SB 283 would modify the developmental disability definition by raising the age of onset to 22 years.

"This is really good news for the families and individuals who are impacted by these horrific situations.  Waking up one day to learn your child or another loved one is now permanently disabled is something I can hardly imagine,” said Wilk. “What I can imagine is that this modernization of our law could make a world of difference to a person - and his or her family - with these types of disabilities."

Regional centers specialize in providing community based services which enable individuals with developmentally disabilities, such as acquired brain injury, to reach their full potential. This measure will bring California into conformance with the federal threshold and that of 38 other states. Currently a person whose injury occurs after his or her 18th birthday is ineligible for these services.

The need for SB 283 came to Senator Wilk's attention from a meeting he had with James O'Hara of Castaic, a constituent whose son suffered a severe injury to his brain in a devastating car accident shortly after his 18th birthday, which, by virtue of his age, made him ineligible for even the basic rehabilitation therapy services needed to restore normal functioning such as speech, walking, and self-care.

"When I think of young brain injury victims and their families just beginning their journey, my heart goes out," says O'Hara. "I know the uncertain road before them and their need for support. That support can make the difference between getting their loved one back, or spending the rest of their lives in a nursing home.  It's been said that one measure of a nation's greatness is how it treats its weakest citizens. When they're unable to advocate for themselves, we are the stewards of their rights."

Testifying in support of the bill were representatives from the California Medical Association, Dr. Stephanie Hayner, Chairperson Emeritus of the Brain Injury Assoc. of CA, Prominent Neuropsychologist Dr. Ronald Ruff, Mr. O’Hara, and Autism advocate Emily Iland.

Support continues to grow every day. In addition to the above, the list includes the Independent Living Center of So Cal, State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Headway House in Northridge, California Association for Health Services at Home (CAHSAH), The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration, CA Disability Services Assn, Thomas Glennon, PhD, Coldwater Clinical Associates, Neurologist Dr. David Brandes, Physiatrist Dr. Thomas Hedge, and National Institute of Health Researcher and Neuroscientist Dr. Jay Giedd, M.D.

SB 283 will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee.