Oklahoma House of Representatives
January 13, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Jennifer Monies, Press Secretary Contact: State Rep. Kris Steele
Oklahoma House of Representatives Capitol: (405) 557-7345
Office of House Speaker Chris Benge
Contact: State Rep. Dan Sullivan
Capitol: (405) 557-7361
House Unveils Autism Plan
Legislation to Increase Providers Praised by Autism Advocates
OKLAHOMA CITY – A legislative proposal unveiled by House Republican leaders today would increase the number of therapists serving children with autism and help families access care for children with the disorder.
The proposal calls for enactment of a licensing process for national Board Certified Behavioral Analysts and enhancement of existing state programs that would train doctors to diagnose and treat autism.
"By increasing the number of providers, our proposal will allow market forces to alleviate the costs of autism services and increase access to care," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "Currently, there is a huge imbalance between supply and demand. We have only a few true providers in Oklahoma, but potentially thousands of children needing services."
During a legislative study conducted in 2008, lawmakers learned that a shortage of trained providers has made it difficult for families to obtain autism services even when they have state assistance.
When a recent state pilot program provided families $12,000 a year to obtain autism-related services, much of the money went unspent because there were not enough professionals trained to work with children with autism.
"Families of children with autism face very real challenges that are increased exponentially by the lack of trained service providers," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel and can maximize our resources by using existing programs to enhance training. As a result, our proposal will ensure families have access to legitimate service providers in a cost-effective manner."
"Until we build up the network of service providers in Oklahoma, any other solution is an empty promise to parents of children with autism," said state Rep. Dan Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican who chairs the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee. "All the money in the world won't help a patient who can't find a doctor."
The plan was praised by several groups and officials that work with children with autism.
"This is an important step in building the capacity of our state to meet the needs of young children with autism," said Rene Daman, director of the Oklahoma Autism Network. "I commend the Legislature for taking these initial steps, particularly during a time of limited resources. The Oklahoma Autism Network is dedicated to working with the Legislature and other key stakeholders and coordinating the state initiatives addressing autism services for children, adults, and their families."
"The rising rates of autism among Oklahoma children calls for significant attention to ensure that these children have the best possible chance to succeed," said Anne Roberts, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. "There are multiple barriers to accomplishing this goal that require multiple solutions and one of those fronts is the lack of qualified providers. This new initiative, with its multi-pronged approach, is an enormous step toward overcoming the barriers to the services so desperately needed by these children and their families."
"The importance of early detection and early intensive intervention for children with an autism spectrum disorder has both political support (Combating Autism Act of 2006 P.L. 109-416) and extensive research support. The proposed legislation addresses both of these important endeavors by providing resources to improve access to early intensive services at no cost to families and by training professionals to utilize valid tools to diagnose. This will take an important step toward the goal of providing a coordinated system of services across the state," said Dr. Bonnie McBride, an assistant professor of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
"I am excited about and support the Oklahoma House proposal for expanding direct services for children and adults with autism and their families," said Martha Ferretti, Chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "These initiatives will compliment our preparation of occupational therapists and physical therapists to work with children and adults within the autism spectrum and their families and the autism program my department is conducting that is funded by the US Department of Education. These initiatives fit well in the Oklahoma Plan for Autism coordinated by the Oklahoma Autism Network, the leading organization promoting and conducting training and direct services in Oklahoma. Representative Steele's vision for helping shape this House initiative in addressing direct services in areas of scarcity of professionals will serve Oklahoma's children with autism and their families very well."
"I think the autism initiative announced today is a great step towards a more coherent strategy for serving people with autism in Oklahoma," said James M. Nicholson, director of the Developmental Disabilities Services Division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. "Focusing on increasing the pool of qualified service providers will avoid many of the frustrations experienced by people in other states of having greater access to services but finding no services to access. The Oklahoma Autism Network has made great progress in supporting parents and existing service providers, and the steps outlined today will greatly enhance this effort. I commend Speaker Benge and Representative Steele for taking the lead in this important area in spite of the serious budget prospects for FY-2010."
The House plan includes the following components:
- Institute a state license to recognize national Board Certified Behavioral Analysts. The state recognition of the nationally required criteria will define what encompasses applied behavioral analysis and who is qualified to provide such therapy in Oklahoma. The law would include what evidence-based therapies fall under the umbrella of behavioral analysis.
- Enhance Sooner Start, Oklahoma's early intervention program for children with disabilities and developmental delays up to age three, by providing professional training on the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders.
- Increase training on the evaluation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.
- Deliver funding for an applied behavioral analysis (ABA) Research Pilot Project that would include supervision of college students seeking licensure (who would provide thousands of hours of service to children during the process), quantify the effects of applied behavioral analysis and include a parental training component.
- Replicate the Early Foundations model in another part of Oklahoma. The Early Foundations program, currently located in Oklahoma City and associated with the OU Health Science Center, is an autism model and outreach project that provides early intensive behavioral intervention and training of providers.
- In addition to the legislative proposals, the Legislature should also continue to support and encourage privately-funded research efforts, such as Aaron's Bridge which was founded, "to facilitate access to more treatment options in Oklahoma for children with disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder."
The House plan is expected to complement legislation approved last year that established a comprehensive autism training program at the University of Central Oklahoma.
The plan also complements recent developments in the private market, such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma's announcement the company will soon offer an autism benefit covering evaluations and management procedures as well as speech, physical, and occupational therapies.