Studying complex problem
Point of view Autism
By State Rep. Kris SteelePublished: October 5, 2008An area of interest for the Legislature this interim is the issue of autism. In an effort to streamline the process and establish a systematic approach, several legislators coordinated an in-depth study to identify, evaluate and discover more about the disorder.
State Reps. David Dank, George Faught, Joe Dorman, Wallace Collins, Mike Brown, Gus Blackwell and I joined forces to obtain information from parents of children with autism, medical experts, state agencies, and advocate organizations such as the Oklahoma Autism Alliance and the Autism Society of Central Oklahoma to better understand what services are currently available to families facing autism.
In addition, Dana Webb of the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board and Ann Trudgeon of the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council presented information on what Oklahoma and other states are doing in relation to autism services, including insurance coverage.
Several key findings emerged throughout the course of the study. For instance, appropriate diagnosis and early intervention are extremely important to achieving improved outcomes for children with autism. A comprehensive treatment plan should include speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral treatment and parental training.
We also learned there is a need to develop a statewide network of service providers. A recent pilot program conducted by the Developmental Disabilities Services Division of the Department of Human Services provided 30 families $12,000 per year to obtain autism-related services. Unfortunately, much of that money remained unspent due to a lack of treatment providers.
An autism training program for behavior therapists at the University of Central Oklahoma coupled with cost-effective treatment programs could possibly be replicated at institutions of higher learning throughout the state to fill that provider gap. Oklahoma should also consider the possibility of state licensure and credentialing for certified behavior therapists. Research also is a significant piece of the puzzle.
Keith and Joni Geary, parents of a child with autism and founders of Aaron’s Bridge, are committed to developing a state-of-the-art biomedical research center for autism in Oklahoma through the private sector. Incentives for teacher training and physician education should also be implemented into a master plan. Successful programs such as the Oklahoma Teacher Registry Project that equips educators to identify and effectively teach students with autism should be expanded to include more participants.
Individuals with autism and their families face very real and significant challenges. The good news is Oklahoma has a solid foundation to build upon in our efforts to aid those families.
The goal of the Legislature should be to develop policies that lead to effective assistance and support for all families of children with autism.
Components of a comprehensive solution should include appropriate diagnosis, early intervention, effective treatment, sufficient service providers and valid research. Although study on this issue is ongoing, I believe a proposal can be developed that coordinates services and maximizes the benefit to all Oklahoma families challenged by this unique and complex condition.
Steele, R-Shawnee, is chairman of the House Health Subcommittee.