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Oversight Hearing on FY22 NYCDOH Preliminary Budget

March 15, 2021

We would like to thank the New York City Council’s Committees on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction, and the Committee on Health for jointly holding this important oversight hearing on the City’s FY2022 Preliminary Budget.  My name is Lori Podvesker, and I am the Director of Policy at INCLUDEnyc. For the last 38 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 its response to the public health, economic, humanitarian, and mental health crisis during the last year, we also testify today to urge the Council to maintain funding for the Autism Awareness Initiative. Many families with children on the autism spectrum were in high need prior to the pandemic and live in historically underserved neighborhoods. But they need help now more than ever. Without this resource, families would not be able to access or connect to life changing care, services, support, or community.  

While COVID-19 has radically disrupted the lives of all New York City families and young people, children on the autism spectrum and their families have been amongst the most affected by these disruptions. Changes in routines, schedules, environment, coupled with the loss of in-person evaluations, services, instruction, socialization, and support at home triggered extraordinary challenges for these families who were now caring for their children full-time at home. Many families saw and still see a regression in their child’s already challenging behavior, communication, learning abilities, and overall emotional well-being. 

There are tens of thousands of children on the autism spectrum living in New York City under the age of 21. According to the New York City Department of Education’s November 2020 Special Education Report to the Council as per Local Law 27, over 22,000 students ages 5-21 are classified with autism. There are thousands more under the age of 5 who are diagnosed with autism, and many more who are not yet diagnosed or classified with autism who are still waiting to be initially evaluated as the result of the pandemic.

Eighty percent of school age children with autism are Latino, Black, or Asian, families who have been most impacted by the ongoing pandemic.  One out of four children on the spectrum have not received any or all their mandated special education services since last March. And as per the most recent Mayor’s Management Report (September 2020), there was a 27% decline of new children ages birth-3 receiving services from the Early Intervention Program during the first four months of Fiscal 2021 compared to the same period in Fiscal 2020.

In 2020 and with much gratitude to the Council, INCLUDEnyc was the largest recipient under this initiative. Nearly 4500 NYC families with a child on the spectrum attended one of our workshops, parent support groups, or events in 2020. We provided direct assistance to 500 parents of school-age children classified with autism, and 1,000 families attended our Indoors for Autism event in May. 

Through our work, we were able to help families with children with Autism:

  • Problem solve to access emergency supports for their child and themselves
  • Better manage their child’s behavior at home
  • Connect to mental health resources
  • Reduce social isolation
  • Understand citywide and school based information 
  • Advocate for their child’s educational rights
  • Apply for home and community based services through NY State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities
  • Access child care and some form of respite

As our City begins to economically recover and emotionally start to heal from the pandemic, the lives of young people with autism and their families are forever changed.  The needs of our families this coming fiscal year will be just as intense as last.  Parents are burnt out and kids are disengaged due to the lack of an entire year of access to consistent in-person services, education, and engaging and supportive environments.  

We urge you to fully restore the Autism Awareness Initiative at $3.2 million. Without this funding, there are no other public service systems where families can get this kind of support. It will provide the emotional and mental support parents need in order to sustain the effort, fortitude, patience, and love that is required of them to successfully parent their children. 

Thank you for taking the time today to consider this important matter. We look forward to partnering with you to improve equity and access for all young people with disabilities in New York City. 


Lori Podvesker

Director of Disability and Education Policy