Posted by Betsy Closs
On Wednesday I spoke before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities at the State House in Boston. The topic was a proposed change in the clinical standards that determine eligibility for adult services.
As the Director of Services for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family & Children's Service, each year I meet with 80-100 families needing assistance with planning for a future. I meet adults who are as young as 19 and just finished with high school; I meet adults with disabilities who are now in their 60's having lived with their now very frail parents their entire lives.
Many of these adults are not eligible for services from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), even though they have lifelong disabilities that impact their intellectual skills and their adaptive functioning. They are not eligible because they do not quite fit the current interpretations of the clinical standard - their IQ scores are a bit too high. In the past six months I have met with five young adults whose IQs range from 70 to 75. They are not DDS eligible, and yet their needs are more significant than many who have been found eligible. One factor in these "near misses" with the DDS eligibility criteria is the overall effectiveness of the MA Special Ed services. The efforts of the teachers, parents, and the students themselves who have worked so hard make a difference. The person with intellectual and developmental disabilities (what we used to call mental retardation) has the same functional needs that they did 20 years ago, but many more have basic reading and math skills, and this intellectual development has an impact on testing. Families have already made an extraordinary investment in their children. The local school systems and the DESE have made an extraordinary investment. The current eligibility standards cast aside these efforts and are an unnecessary burden for everyone - for the DDS staff who are trying to meet the needs of so many who are aging into the system and for the families who feel that their child has missed out due to an arbitrary "grade" on a test.
It should be noted that the threshold for determining disability has changed over time, and these changes have taken place because of our commitment to quality. The threshold for what was then called mental retardation was once an IQ of 85. Then in 1973, the standard was dramatically reduced to an IQ of 70. Why? To reduce admission into institutional care. Removing the rigid clinical standards will allow DDS to focus on a thorough and accurate assessment of the functional needs of the adult. This change will help families feel that the system is more rational, and honors the efforts that everyone has made during the educational years for those young adults.
Betsy Closs is the Director for Services for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family & Children's Service. She has worked in the field of disabilities for more than twenty years, in both day and residential services as well as quality improvement. She was the director of the MA Governor's Commission on Mental Retardation before joining the staff at JF&CS in 2002. Betsy has degrees from Vassar and Harvard in addition to her social work degree from Simmons. She has two young adult children, a son who is pursuing a master's degree in education and a daughter who is a junior in college.