Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

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 deductible maximums.

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 intervention.

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.

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