Saturday, January 17, 2009

Progress being made

Progress being made

Autism assistance in state

Published: January 18, 2009

The increased diagnosis of autism in society has fueled a debate about the best way to address the problem and help children with the condition.

On one side are proponents of a political proposition that places bureaucrats and politicians in charge of medical decisions. The other side suggests efforts should focus on addressing infrastructure needs and allowing the market to efficiently and deliberately allocate resources for the maximum benefit of all.

Kris Steele

The political proposal is not without appeal. It offers an easy and swift reaction that on the surface sounds like a good thing, although it would only benefit a fraction of the families it professes to help.

Building the infrastructure and allowing the market to respond are more likely to provide real hope and effective treatment with tangible benefits to children with autism without adding to number of uninsured.

Last year, the state House of Representatives identified numerous unanswered questions surrounding this issue and opted to conduct a study on autism and commissioned an actuarial analysis to determine the true costs of a mandate. The wisdom of that action has been validated in recent months.

For instance, a leader in the private sector responded to the needs of Oklahoma families by announcing the addition of a market-driven autism benefit that will cover evaluations and management procedures as well as speech, physical and occupational therapies. The professionals involved in that decision indicate the new benefits will provide significant services to children with autism without a dramatic spike in insurance rates.

The interim study afforded the opportunity for the Legislature to address the root problem facing Oklahomans with autism — a lack of service providers. A recent state pilot program providing families over $12,000 to obtain autism-related services resulted in much of the money remaining unspent because there weren’t enough professionals to meet demand.

That is why House Republicans will seek to develop and enhance the network of providers by instituting a state license for national Board Certified Behavioral Analysts. Implementing appropriate accountability measures will define the practice and protect Oklahoma families against exploitation by untrained professionals posing as "autism therapists.”

In addition, our initiative will seek funding for an applied behavioral analysis (ABA) research pilot project that will provide supervision for students seeking licensure and determine the effects of qualified ABA.

Our plan will enhance current services by providing autism evaluation training for family doctors, specialized autism training for Sooner Start providers, and a parental training component that will empower families to continue therapies at home to supplement treatment and reduce expenses.

The needs of families affected by autism are very real and often heartbreaking. The love of these caring parents is just as real and their worry about the future is intense.

I understand the frustration many experience with the legislative process, but real solutions take time. We are experiencing genuine progress in the battle against autism in Oklahoma and the beneficiaries are not politicians seeking publicity, but the families of children with the disorder.

Steele, R-Shawnee, represents District 26 in the Oklahoma House.

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