Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Good Will Is Not Enough To Help Kids With Autism

In an Op-Ed article in today's New York Times, two parents of a 4-year-old girl with autism argue that the nation must do more -- beyond the Combat Autism Act now before Congress -- to invest in children's development so they can lead productive lives.

The article, "Studying Autism Isn't Enough," is by Cathryn Garland and Michael O'Hanlon. (Click here to read it.) She's a director at Discovery Communications, the cable TV company that runs the Discovery Channel. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is an expert on homeland security, missile defense and defense policy. Here, the writers argue that the Combat Autism Act's emphasis on research into the causes of this spectrum disorder makes sense for now, but it is not enough because it can cost a small fortune (they cite their experience of paying about $50,000 per year for a preschool-aged child) to get effective treatments. They write that "You have to be lucky or rich to get proper care for your young autistic child." Luck refers to winning rare Medicaid coverage for therapies like Applied Behavior Analysis, or working for one of the few employers such as Microsoft and Home Depot which provide health plans that pay for autism-related services.

Another argument this article asserts: it makes economic sense to invest in costly therapies while autistic children are young, so that there's a greater chance they will be able to contribute to society when they grow up, rather than relying on the nation's social safety net. The authors write:

"If we do not help these children, we are essentially condemning them to a lifetime of disability, unemployment and, for many, institutionalization. On human grounds, this is tragic. But it's also bad economics. The few hundred thousand dollars needed to do intensive early intervention for four or five years — while a lot — is only one-tenth the expected cost of supporting someone for a lifetime on the dole."

Last year, O'Hanlon helped organize a special one-day conference of speakers called "Autism and Hope," at Brookings in Washington, D.C. (Click here for more information about the conference, including a transcript of panelists including Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who developed the Floortime method of teaching young children with autism.)

For recent a Autism Bulletin piece on efforts to pass the Combat Autism Act, see here.

No comments: