Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lawmakers Review Autism Programs

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Media Division

September 25, 2008


Contact: State Rep. Kris Steele

Capitol: (405) 557-7345

Lawmakers Review Autism Programs

OKLAHOMA CITY – State lawmakers continued a legislative study of autism services today, reviewing several existing programs and considering proposals for new or expanded services.

“It’s clear that the families of children with autism face significant challenges,” said state Rep. Kris Steele, a Shawnee Republican who requested the study. “Our challenge is to determine the appropriate role state government should play in advancing policy that helps all families of children with autism.”

Thursday’s meeting showed existing services are in place benefiting children with autism and their families. The Legislature may consider proposals to expand these services next session.

Lawmakers also learned about the services public schools can provide to children with autism.

Nancy Goosen, director of special services for Edmond Public Schools, noted that federal law requires all public schools to offer services for children with autism just as they do for other special education pupils. Those services for children with autism may include occupational and physical therapies.

In Edmond , specialized services are designed for individuals with autism from preschool to 21 years of age and include treatments such as speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. The school district has 31 speech language pathologists with three of those specialists assigned to the building housing the communication disorder program for children with autism who have concomitant disabilities or intellectual disabilities at the elementary level. .

Edmond also has teaching assistants who work individually with the children, providing some forms of Applied Behavioral Analysis and other treatments.

The school also contracts with a consultant who assists teachers with therapy.

School specialists will literally go into the home and provide support if necessary to help parents of children with autism.

Lawmakers were also made aware of new initiatives that could benefit many Oklahoma families of children with autism.

Keith and Joni Geary, founders of Aaron’s Bridge, shared their plans to expand biomedical services in Oklahoma .

After their son Aaron was diagnosed with autism as a two-year old, the Gearys took him to Thoughtful House in Texas , which specializes in biomedical treatments.

Biomedical treatments attempt to resolve the physical problems common to children with autism, such as stomach ailments and ulcers. By reducing those physical problems through specialized diets and similar treatments, children are better able to respond to behavioral therapy because they are not distracted by physical pain.

Because biomedical treatments address physical ailments and not autism-specific treatments, biomedical therapies are often covered by existing insurance policies.

However, the Gearys noted that few doctors are trained to provide those therapies to children with autism.

They have established Aaron’s Bridge to raise private funds to identify autism and provide biomedical treatment in Oklahoma . The Gearys proposed establishing a partnership with physicians’ schools in Oklahoma to allow medical students to train at the Geary’s planned clinic.

They suggested state research grants and tax incentives could also play a role in increasing the number of trained providers in Oklahoma .

In addition, lawmakers heard from officials at the Shawnee-based National Institute on Developmental Delays, where Fr. Paul Zahler has developed a cost-effective program that provides behavioral therapy and other treatments through everyday activities.

The program has served approximately 5,000 children with developmental delays, including autism, since its founding.

Qualified children receiving state assistance of $25 per day are able to afford the NIDD program.

Officials hope to replicate similar services in other parts of the state so more children and parents can receive services and training related to autism.

Steele said Thursday’s presentation may lead to legislative proposals in 2008.

“I am very excited to learn more about what the state and private sources are doing to benefit children with autism,” Steele said. “We need to make sure that parents are able to access these resources and there may be a need for expansion. I am pleased to learn we have a solid foundation in place to build upon.”

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