Thursday, January 28, 2010

Same Child, Different Day: Insurance Reform

It's been about three weeks since my last post; something I try not to do. Trust me when I say we have been busy.

First, we have been working on our new home inventory service business (

On the autism front however, much of our time has been devoted to supporting and advocating for VT Autism Reform Bill S-262. Today we visited the Senate Finance Committee to provide testimony in favor of this bill.

A post will be coming shortly about this visit, and we'll be asking many of you, especially those of you in Vermont, to jump on board this train. Until then, be good and take care of those who matter.

I'll be back shortly.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Autism: Budget Cuts, (Lack of) Insurance Coverage & the Congressman --- in 3D

"Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off." ~Paul Brodeur, Outrageous Misconduct

For anyone who isn't aware of what autism is, its prevelance, the controversies surrounding it or a person in their lives somehow impacted directly or indirectly by it: Nice to meet you; Welcome to Earth. Now that we have that out of the way, let's jump right into the meat of this post.

Our State is considering various funding cuts in order to trim the budget, and make for a leaner, meaner Vermont. It is true that these are tough econimic times. And admittedly, I'm not one you should consider to suggest where cuts should come from (just ask the folks at my credit union). But I can tell you where those cuts should not come from.

Right now, one of the primary sources under consideration for fat-trimming is our statewide developmental services system. Targeted case management, flexible family funding and developmental service 'waivers' are all trembling under the axe of our Governor James Douglas.

These cut considerations come on the heels of similar recent cost-cutting measures that have already weilded mental health services lay-offs, elimination of whole support departments and 'stacking' of clients with single caregivers. At the same time, hundreds of people poured into the streets and legistative halls to save Amtrak service to our fair state. The choochoo got the green light; the developmental services, not so much.

So, some assistive funds and supports have already been taken away, and there are proposals for more, all forsaking our most vulnerable citizens. All because they are not revenue generators. Yet train service, which is inconsequential when considered as a true 'need', but produces a revenue, is pulled from the chopping block. It doesn't seem logical.

So, while we wait for the State to consider reducing funding and supports that are already just skin-and-bones, those of us who have loved ones living with autism face another dilemma. Vermont is not one of the (few) states that requires insurance companies to cover autism therapies and services. Say what?

That is correct: Vermont currently has no legislation on the books that requires insurance companies to pay for therapies for folks living with autism. As most of the readers here know, 25-40 hours per week of intensive therapies are needed in order for a patient with autism to even have a chance at what we've come to accept as a 'normal' life. Parents and caregivers assist in this equation, providing all the speech, occupational and physical therapies they are able to in their already-hectic lives. But there is no way they could possibly provide all the services even one individual needs.

As you are painfully aware, paying out-of-pocket for just two hours per week of speech therapy could set a family back $600 to $2400 each month. For years.

There is hope, however: A bill (s.262) is circulating the VT Senate that will call for full and unfettered coverage of autism-related services by insurance companies. This bill must pass. And I assure you that I will do all I can to make that happen.

I will also do all I can to assure that the Governor knows that, while it is understood cost-savings must be considered, they should not be made at the expense of many who already are little able to speak or fight for themselves.

As a final note, last month Tammy of Autism Learning Felt began emailing the following letter to Senators from around the country:

"Thank you for taking time to read my email request for information. I am the owner and administrator of AutismLearningFelt, and online publication for parents raising a child with autism. My readers and I would like to know what you are doing to help us.I have a few questions that I would like to ask you and hope you will respond. Your answers will be published on my website within a day or two of your response. Thank you again for your time.

1. When the CDC announced the new autism rates, 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism, what were your first thoughts?

2. Services for children with autism are limited and difficult to receive. Most are limited to speech, occupational and speech therapy, yet hardly ever enough of these services to make a big impact for our children. Services like ABA and Floortime therapy are usually not available for our children unless we, the parents, pay for them ourselves. Children that receive at least 20 to 25 hours a week of specialized therapy make more progress than those that do not. What do you intend to do to make government paid specialized therapy services available for our children?

3. Early Intervention is extremely important. Do you have any plans for improving the identification and diagnosis of autism and an earlier age?

4. Autism families need a voice within the government. There are several great organizations that lobby and advocate for us, but we need government officials to take up our cause. Do you have any plans to stand up as a voice for the autism community and bring about more government involvement in addressing the concerns of families raising a child with autism and bringing about practical help for us?

5. Finally, have you considered the time when our children are adults and will require even more help? As parents, we like to think that we will always be here for our children. As our children get older, we realize that soon they will be adults and may become dependent on the government for their care. Do you have any plans to address this issue?"

To put it loosely, I "joined" her in this campaign. However, I have thus far been only able to send one letter: to US Congerssman Peter Welch (D-VT). Thus far Congressman Welch has not replied. Though I am inclined to draw a conclusion as to why we have yet to see his take on the issue, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. Suffice it to say however, that we likely may not ever have the pleasure of knowing the Congressman's opinion regarding the questions.

Anyhow, I've gone on long enough. I look forward to your thoughtful comments.


Monday, January 4, 2010

For Autistic Children: Graphical Communication Tool for iPod touch and iPhone

A couple times a month I would run into the mom of an autistic boy. She and I would be visiting the same place, and she would have her kids in tow. Verbally, “B” is on the extreme end of the spectrum, and uses an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device for speech. It is a Voice Output Communication Aid that utilizes a system similar to the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) as an alternative to speech that can identify wants and needs.

I did learn however that these devices can cost upwards of $7,000 to $10,000 dollars. With the insurance coverage for autism sporadic from state to state at this time, for many parents that can be an insurmountable cost. Yet anyone living with a loved one who is even moderately affected by autism knows that much of the frustration lies in not being able to communicate with them. Many rely on PECS cards and American Sign Language as an alternative, but there are parents and caregivers who want nothing more than to be able to “hear” their loved one’s thoughts.

Spectrum Visions presents Voice4U, an AAC application developed for use with iPod touch and iPhone. Voice4U is a $29.99 alternative to the larger, more expensive speech generating devices and comes pre-loaded with 130 icons: just touch the picture and the app sounds out the associated word. The user can access nine categories, with a response that is in a clear, easy-to-listen-to voice.

With the assistance of her son’s tutor, the app was created by the mother of a 15-year-old boy with autism. She built the system to be expandable, with the capability of adding up to 1,000 of the user’s own words and pictures. Additionally, you can change the icons and voices with your own photos and sounds as well, in both Japanese and English. Voice4U is mainly intended for school-age users, though it can serve consumers of all ages

Spectrum Visions Website
Voice4U Website
See the app in action on YouTube