FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 19, 2007
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385
Legislation proposed to help children with autism
April is Autism Awareness Month
While April is Autism Awareness Month, parents of children
diagnosed with this brain disorder face year-round challenges and heartaches.
As a legislator, I have less than two months left of this legislative session
to continue my efforts to help these families.
I commend the many parents statewide who have supported me
in efforts to inform my fellow colleagues that this organic brain disorder is
growing in epidemic proportions. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or
ASD (commonly referred to as autism) have great potential, but it cannot be
realized unless we provide them with appropriate treatment while still young.
Ten years ago, autism affected one in every 2,500 children,
and today that figure has drastically climbed to one in every 150. While the
cause remains unknown, the need for early services has been proven.
The problem lies in resistance by insurance companies to
provide coverage for the therapy required to treat children with ASD. Studies
show that with early intensive treatment, 47 percent of autistic children can
become indistinguishable from their peers.
The cost of autism is staggering. A Harvard School of Public
Health study shows that it costs $35 billion per year to care for autism and
$3.2 million to care for an autistic person for a lifetime. Research has also
revealed that early, intensive behavioral, social and communication
intervention has the most profound effect over the lifespan of a person with
ASD, usually reducing costs by two-thirds.
During this legislative session, I have authored two bills
related to autism. Senate Bill (SB) 419 requires health insurance coverage of
therapies for 3- to 5-year-olds with autism. The goal is to provide these
children with a fair opportunity to lead a normal life while lessening the need
for special services when they are in school.
This bill also classifies autism as a neurobiological
disorder to clarify that it is not mental illness, as is commonly mistaken. Mental
retardation involves a shrinkage and loss of brain cells. With autism, the
brain is bigger and there is too much signal, not too little. Research is
getting closer to identifying the genes involved and isolating them to develop
a diagnostic blood or other test. Mario Martinez, an Austin father of two young
autistic children, is having a tough time finding a medical professional who
will confirm his son's autism as congenital. The father's health policy insures
speech therapy for a child over age 3 only if the problem is congenital.
"How could anyone say that a child over the age of three who
can only say less than five words on a daily basis couldn't need speech
therapy?" he asks.
Mr. Martinez was also informed that if he pays the $640 a
month out-of-pocket for speech therapy, the money cannot be applied toward his
The high count of uninsured children in Texas can exacerbate
the problem. But for those fortunate to have insurance, they desperately need insurance
companies to recognize the benefits and long-term savings of early
My other proposal, SB 840, would direct the Commissioner of
Education to develop training institutes for teachers and paraprofessionals who
work with students having disabilities, including autism, to implement
research-based education practices in their classrooms. The training would be
voluntary and pay stipends to those who complete the course.
Federal requirements mandate that students with
disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment." Most of these
students spend all or part of their school day in general education classrooms.
This bill would benefit teachers who lack either special education or
experience working with children with certain disabilities, as well as the
paraprofessionals who assist them.
This training would be more beneficial in the long-run to
autistic children and their families, than vouchers that hand-pick certain
children with only this disability to attend a private school that offers
special services. Using this approach is like attempting to douse a three-alarm
fire with a garden hose. We need a statewide program for all children with
disabilities, including ASD.
As Dr. David Baskin, a neurologist at the Methodist Hospital
Neurological Institute in Houston and autism expert tells us, "We have this
national emergency. It's called autism!" I also add that we have a national
responsibility. It's called commitment. I, for one, am committed to finding
help for autism. Our children are waiting for our help.
As always, if you
have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not
hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.