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Putting a price on autism in Oklahoma

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: October 27, 2008 at 12:50 am •  Published: October 27, 2008
Oklahoma lacks enough therapists and behavioral specialists to take care of the state’s autistic children, according to the preliminary findings of a pilot program.

Thirty families selected to take part in the autism two-year pilot project each could spend up to $12,360 a year on services for their autistic child.

"What we discovered was there are so few providers of those services to these families that the spending on the behavior therapies was pretty small,” said Jim Nicholson, director of the developmental disabilities division of the state Department of Human Services. "There’s a lack of service providers that had that kind of specialty training.

"There aren’t enough, particularly, skilled behavioral practitioners,” he said.

Each family on average spent about $4,500 a year on services for their autistic child, he said.

The pilot program is to expire at the end of next month, sooner than expected because DHS officials "learned what we had hoped from the pilot,” Nicholson said. "The pilot did its job, and two years was enough.”

It’s unknown how many autistic children are in the state. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 150 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. It is considered the fastest-growing developmental disability. Research indicates early intervention can help.

A parent’s reaction
Deborah Decker of Norman, a parent whose family was chosen to take part in the study, said she is disappointed the program is ending.

"It just opened up a lot of avenues that we wouldn’t have had otherwise because it’s just so expensive,” said Decker, who developed a plan for her 6-year-old autistic son.

Senator vows new effort
A state senator unsuccessful this year in getting legislation requiring insurance companies to cover treatment for autism is vowing a renewed effort next session.

"Current practices in our state are discriminatory and nothing short of a travesty,” said Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant.

Gumm was the author of "Nick’s Law,” a bill that would have required health insurance companies to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The measure received support in the Senate by both Republicans and Democrats.

However, it was stopped by House Republicans.

House Republicans said they are concerned that health care is less affordable and less accessible when mandates are imposed.

Several parents of autistic children who came to the state Capitol earlier this year to speak for the bill said they want the insurance industry to realize autism is a medical issue.

Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau


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