April 1, 2016


Department of Human Services Initiative has Trained More than Two Thirds of Pennsylvania Magisterial Judges about Autism

Governor Wolf declares April as Autism Acceptance Month


Harrisburg, PA – Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Ted Dallas today announced that 370 of the commonwealth’s 540 magisterial judges have received training on how to better interact with witnesses or suspects with autism. Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a group of brain disorders that affect social interactions, communication, and other behaviors. There are more than 55,000 children and adults with autism receiving services in the commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Autism Census.

“Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 budget calls for $46.251 million in state and federal funds for autism intervention and services. These funds will provide critically needed services for this diverse and growing population,” Secretary Dallas said.

The judges’ training is mandated under a 2015 law requiring them to renew the training every six years. The trainers include psychiatrists, attorneys, parents of persons with autism, and educators who teach about:

  • Traits and common characteristics of individuals with autism;
  • ASD and crime;
  • Effective ways to communicate with offenders who have autism;
  • Pre-trial sequence;
  • Attorney representation;
  • Preparing for the hearing; and
  • Alternative sentencing.

A witness or suspect with autism might react in unexpected ways, perhaps trying to run away or grab an officer’s gun, or might be extremely distracted by the sounds in a courtroom or the feel of handcuffs. Judges familiar with the signs and traits of ASD will better understand that a witness or suspect with autism is not being disrespectful.

The training is funded by DHS and presented by the ASERT Collaborative (Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training), a statewide initiative funded by DHS’ Office of Developmental Programs through its Bureau of Autism Services. ASERT has also trained attorneys, probation officers, and police officers. ASERT is working with Autism Society of America Pittsburgh Chapter, Duquesne University, and the PA Supreme Court Minor Judiciary Education Board to train all 540 judges by the end of summer 2016.

ASERT is a key component of the commonwealth’s strategy for supporting individuals with autism and their families. ASERT expands DHS’ efforts to continually improve the quality of its programs and connects existing resources and pockets of expertise to address regional gaps in effective services and supports.

Governor Wolf declared April to be Autism Acceptance Month, which autism advocates have said better reflects their perspectives than Autism Awareness Month, the name used in previous years. Other DHS and ASERT initiatives during the month will include:


  • Lighting the Capitol blue. The front of the Capitol will be lit blue from dusk until dawn for the month of April to promote autism awareness and acceptance;
  • Free training on developing, collecting, and analyzing data. The training — for professionals who work directly with people with ASD such as behavior specialists, administrators and other professionals — will be presented in April and May at several sites around the state. For more information on the trainings, visit, the ASERT website, and search Data Seminars;
  • Expansion of to include free trainings for individuals, families, and professionals;
  • Launch of #ASDNext, an ASERT initiative designed to provide resources and information to transition-age individuals with autism and their families.


In addition, DHS will present a conference for professionals who support individuals with autism June 28-30, at the Eden Resort Inn & Suites in Lancaster. DHS will also host a conference for individuals, families, and professionals September 14-16 at the Hershey Lodge.

 MEDIA CONTACT: Diana Fishlock, DHS, 717-425-7606


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April 2016

WHEREAS, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can affect anyone, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or geography; and

WHEREAS, the incidence of autism in the United States is 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys; and

WHEREAS, autism affects more than 3 million people in the United States and more than 55,000 children and adults with autism receive services in the commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, the aims for Autism Acceptance Month are to promote autism awareness, inclusion, and self-determination for all, and to assure that each person with ASD has the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life; and

WHEREAS, under Executive Order 2016-03, I established the Employment First policy to increase competitive integrated employment for Pennsylvanians with a disability –  prioritizing education, training, and long-term supports and service programs – expanding opportunities for those with ASD to contribute their skills to the workforce; and

WHEREAS, by increasing awareness, creating social and economic opportunities for people with ASD, and supporting autism education and research, we honor our highest ideals as a commonwealth that was founded on fairness, inclusion, and tolerance.

THEREFORE, in recognition of individuals with autism, as well as their families, friends, medical professionals, and advocates, I, Tom Wolf, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do hereby proclaim April 2016 as AUTISM ACCEPTANCE MONTH. I encourage all Pennsylvanians to provide their support in furthering autism awareness and acceptance.

GIVEN under my hand and the Seal of the Governor, at the City of Harrisburg, on this twenty-ninth day of March in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen, and of the Commonwealth the two hundred and fortieth.