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Two Important Autism Bills Signed Into Law

Two Important Autism Bills Signed Into Law
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Two important pieces of autism legislation have recently been signed into law. On September 30, President Obama signed H.R. 2005, “The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act.” He thereby ensured that crucial programs for autism early detection, surveillance, research, education, awareness and treatment will receive funding for three more years, through September 30, 2014. These programs had been authorized under the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (CAA) but could have been discontinued without the passing of H.R. 2005. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 1 in 110 children — 1 in 94 children in New Jersey where I live — have an autism spectrum disorder, the reauthorization of the CAA means that research into the treatments and causes of autism can continue.

The other major piece of autism legislation that just became law is SB 946, which mandates that health insurance health plans in California must cover behavioral therapy as a medical benefit for autistic individuals. 27 other states (including New Jersey) already have such a law. While insurers have predicted that the bill will add $200 million to the annual cost of health insurance, advocates counter that it will increase premiums by less than 1%. The bill was authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, and takes effect July 1, 2012 and expires July 1, 2014, when the federal government will issue a list of essential benefits under federal health care reform. If behavioral therapy for autistic individuals is not on the list, SB 946′s mandate will expire.

Insurers have fought coverage for behavior therapy for autistic individuals on the grounds that it is an educational, not a medical, benefit. My 14-year-old son Charlie, who is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, was just over two years old when he started doing such behavior therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA for such a young child often involves one-on-one teaching. Therapists use teaching techniques based on B.F. Skinner’s principles of behaviorism to teach children, often by “breaking down” tasks and activities into smaller steps and reinforcing a child positively for successfully completing each step and then gradually teaching children to build on what they have learned and perform more complicated tasks: learning to pronounce a word, playing with Legos, dressing themselves, writing the letters of the alphabet, having a dentist clean one’s teeth. ABA is often incorporated into teaching autistic children in school settings and can be used to teach older children how to, for instance, perform tasks for a job on their own.

Charlie did hours of ABA therapy at home from the time he was a toddler till he was about 11 years old. He started with 40 hours/week of therapy and then was doing about 6-8 hours at the time home therapy ceased. From the time he was 4 1/2, he has been in mostly public full-day special education programs here in New Jersey, all of which incorporated ABA teaching. In a few cases, school districts paid for some of Charlie’s in-home ABA therapy. We paid for the bulk of all those years of one-on-one therapy. Our families were generous, but we still drained our savings, including most of my earnings from my first job teaching that, we had thought, we would use to buy a house. It’s just now, with Charlie a teenager, that we have found ourselves in more stable economic circumstances.

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Photo of the author's son riding a bike, one of the many skills he learned thanks to ABA (and a lot of encouragement from his dad) by the author

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9:17PM PST on Dec 8, 2011

I appreciated this blog! Keep up the good work, I like your writing. I have gotten some good information here.

10:04AM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

Thank you.

8:51PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

I am grateful for these laws, which came too late to benefit my own now adult children. It's about time.

2:37PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011


2:36PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

About 50% of the males and 25% of the females in my family have Aspergers on my mother's side. Both myself and my son have it. Unfortunately, because people with Aspergers are usually very intelligent and "look" and "talk" normal (usually the physical manifestations are not noticeable unless you are looking for them), there is a lack of providers understanding and treating Aspies. Thus this bill will probably not affect us in any way.

As to the number of children being diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder which includes Aspergers), the diagnosis of these disorders are fairly new (within the past few decades). Aspergers wasn't even a recognized condition until 1991. In the past, many people with ASDs were labeled with anxiety disorders, OCD, recluses, and even labeled with disorders of exclusion (i.e. the diagnosis actually meant "not describable by another other condition"). Through the evolution of the internet and greater publicity of these disorders, they are finally being accurately diagnosed and treated. This needs to be taken into account when taking about an "epidemic."

Also, there is a connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. The stomach has sometimes even been called "the second brain." The anxiety that people with ASDs experience triggers many stomach and intestinal disorders. Add our Western diet to that and you can see why it has become such an issue.

For those who don't have the time to spend creating gluten-free, dairy-free,

2:02PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Great news! All the best for your son's future, dear! :)

1:01PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Great information! Thanks !!

12:03PM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Autism needs to be greatly supported and we need to find out why it is so common for a child to have autism now. It is not normal.

11:58AM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Wonderful news for families.

10:53AM PDT on Oct 11, 2011

Did you notice---more vaccines more autism, ADD, ADHD, more neurological problems? Big pharma gets richer. Children get the shaft, parents are left to deal with and pay for treatment and more centers for treatment are established. My constitution says nothing about the government (schools included) being able to put a foreign substance into my body. Save the children. Build the immune system, don't destroy it with vaccines. My step-grandson died 3 days after a vaccine (Ryan was 3 months old). I have M S the week of a vaccine. Dear 22 year old friend got Lupus the week of her vaccine. Friends with cancers, unexplained fevers that kill, all from vaccines. Research anti vaccine sites for ingredients in vaccines and you will never agree to a poisoned needle again. Same applies to your pets. Another big sham.

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