Thursday, November 09, 2006

In the News

Thu, Nov. 09, 2006 – Myrtle Beach Sun News

BENEFICIAL TREATMENT HAS COSTS

Support for autism therapy needs to continue

By Cheryl A. Bauerle

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects the typical functioning of the brain on many levels. It strikes one in 166 children and is the most common of all serious childhood disorders. It is estimated that1.5 million Americans have autism spectrum disorder and that number is increasing at a rate of 10 percent to 17 percent per year. We do not know the cause. There is no cure.

Treatment is expensive, but it does work to increase quality of life and can even help the person with autism become a contributing member of society. The benefit of such an early intervention plan (speech therapy, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, reading resource and applied behavioral analysis) is tremendous and can make a remarkable difference. These treatments cost money, resources and a great deal of time on the part of the Horry County school district as well as families. The cost of educating a child with autism can be as much as, if not more than, a year at Harvard University, $40,450, according to Harvard's Web site. The difference is that some parents, who opt for private applied behavioral analysis therapy, pay this year after year without the promise of a positive outcome.

In the past, the school districts received assistance from the government (Medicaid funds) to provide some of the services mentioned above, especially for those related to applied behavioral analysis therapy.

As of Dec. 31, Medicaid will cut funding given to the school districts to teach autistic children. This means that $1.4 million dollars in federal money will be lost. The S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state's Medicaid plan, will pull $700,000 from its $944 million annual budget to fund the services through the end of the school year. After this, the schools will have to find the money to support the programs already in place. This will affect Horry County Schools greatly. We are the second-largest recipients of Medicaid funding for such programs.

The impact on society will be unimaginable, unless policymakers address this growing problem. It has been estimated that caring for all people with autism over their lifetime costs an estimated $35 billion per year. It costs $3.2 million to take care of an autistic person over his or her lifetime. People with autism tend to have a very long lifespan.

Now, do the math. Do we pay now - or later?

The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.

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