More children are being diagnosed with autism because awareness is increasing, and support for treatment is also increasing in most states - except for Kansas. However, local groups are working to change that.
The disorder affects one in 88 school children, and every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed with autism.
While there is no cure for children with autism, experts agree that early intervention is key. But affording the therapy is where many families hit a wall, especially in Kansas where health insurance denies them full coverage.
Just a year and a half ago, 4-year-old Chloe wasn't talking. One-on-one training at Kansas City Autism Training Center has drastically improved her social skills.
"The price range is pretty high," agency coordinator Jenny Regan said.
The full-time student getting 35 hours of therapy a week would cost the family $70,000 each year. And families are turning to extremes to give their children a chance.
"We've had parents who have taken out second mortgages on their homes. We've had parents who've tried to join the military to get military insurance. We've had families relocate to the Missouri side. We've had families who have asked friends and family for financial support so they can enroll in programs like this," Regan said.
Most of the students live in Missouri, even though the center is in Prairie Village, KS.
They can afford the treatment because Missouri mandates that insurance companies cover behavioral therapy for children with autism. It is one of 31 states that does. Kansas does not.
"So without means to pay for that out of pocket, the child will only receive a fraction of the prescribed therapy or go without therapy at all," said Mike Wasmer with the Autism Speaks organization, which filed two bills in the Kansas House this session.
Neither bill made it to a hearing.
"What it would do would provide access to life-changing treatments to children with autism," Wasmer said.
An estimated 8,500 children in Kansas have autism. According to Autism Speaks, if treated early, half of them will be able to go to school with their peers by first grade. Another 42 percent will improve so that they need less special education in grades K-12.
It would save the state about $3.2 million in disability costs for the lifespan of the child and only cost the state 26 cents per member, per month.
"It is not only a moral imperative this be done because this is a medically necessary treatment that's being withheld from our children, but it's also a fiscal imperative for Kansas to do," Wasmer said.
Advocates urge people to contact their legislators, share their stories and ask them to support autism insurance in Kansas.
KCTV5 reached out to Kansas Speaker of the House Ray Merrick to find out why he kept the bill from moving forward. He has yet to respond.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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