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Oversight Hearing on FY25 Preliminary Budget, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

March 21, 2024
In the Media, Testimony

We thank the New York City Council’s Committees on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction and the Committee on Health for holding this important oversight hearing on the City’s FY2025 Preliminary Budget. My name is Lori Podvesker, and I am the Director of Disability and Education Policy at INCLUDEnyc. For the last 40 years, INCLUDEnyc (formerly Resources for Children with Special Needs) has helped hundreds of thousands of NYC families navigate the complex special education service and support systems.

While we commend the City for all its continued efforts in supporting young people with disabilities and their families at school and within their home communities, we also testify today to urge the Council to specifically maintain funding for the Autism Awareness Initiative. Families with children on the autism spectrum continue to and will always struggle with obtaining adequate public and private support and services for their children to safely live at home while also making educational and developmental progress.

This funding provides community-based organizations such as INCLUDEnyc the ability to support and connect children and families in critical need to behavioral, medical, therapeutic, social, and academic support and services. It also provides families with information, tools, and strategies to cope with caring for their loved ones with autism. Equally as valuable is this funding provides a community for individuals and families who far too often are excluded and historically have been underserved.

There are tens of thousands of children on the autism spectrum living in New York City under the age of 21. According to the most recent Special Education reports from New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) Special Education Reports to the City Council as per Local Law 27, there are 30,000 children with autism between the ages of 3-21 receiving special education services. There are thousands of babies and toddlers under the age of three who are already known to be on the spectrum and thousands more babies and toddlers who are either waiting to be evaluated and diagnosed or classified with autism. 

Within the last year at INCLUDEnyc, we had a 15% increase in the number of total calls we received from families with a loved one on the autism spectrum looking for information and help from us than 2022, and within the last two years, we had nearly twice the number of total related calls than we did before the pandemic. In 2023, our Help Line staff responded to more than 1400 requests related to autism, including direct calls from over 60 young people with autism themselves. We presented 30% more autism-related workshops last year than we did the year before with over 1300 attendees, including nearly 300 professionals and 200 young people with autism. In addition, 720 New Yorkers in person attended our annual event in the South Bronx last June, Outdoors for Autism. 

Through our work, we can help families with children with autism:

  • Navigate the Early Intervention process
  • Access child care and other forms of respite programs
  • Problem solve to access emergency behavior supports for their child and themselves
  • Advocate for their child’s educational rights and related special education services
  • Apply for home and community-based services through NY State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities
  • Identify non-education in-person activities such as after-school, weekend and school vacation and holiday programs, summer camps, socialization groups, parent support groups
  • Connect to mental health resources 
  • Establish eligibility for public benefits such as SSI 
  • Prepare for life after high school, including college, employment, adult services, and residential programs
  • Guardianship

We urge you to fully fund the Autism Awareness Initiative at $3.3 million. Without this funding, there are no other publicly funded programs where families can get this type of critical support. Thank you for taking the time today to consider this important matter. We look forward to partnering with you thereto improve equity and access for all young people with disabilities in New York City. 


Lori Podvesker
Director of Disability and Education Policy