Mo. panel makes recommendations to help autistic people

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo (AP) -- A panel examining how Missouri can better help those with autism has proposed 36 recommendations, asking for more services, improved coordination and a comprehensive system for gathering data.

The blue-ribbon panel on autism was appointed earlier this year by Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, to examine Missouri's response to autism and how it might improve services.

Sen. Scott Rupp, chairman of the 16-member panel, said he would "take these recommendations and push for them."

Rupp, R-Wentzville, said some of the recommendations would be quite costly but that the needs of the autism community are "near and dear" to the heart of Gov. Matt Blunt, who pushed for boosted funding for autism services in 2008 by $3.9 million.

It's believed one out of every 150 children in the nation may have an autism spectrum disorder, which can impair a person's ability to communicate and relate to others.

"The whole project is wonderful because it's a first needed step in increasing public awareness," said Dennis Michael, who runs the ABC'nD Autism Center in Kansas City. "I hope this is just the beginning of momentum that will bring about some real changes."

As many as 15 different state agencies and public and private entities provide services to families with children with autism, as do subagencies, local private and public service providers and pediatricians.

Doctors and schools often make contradictory diagnoses and families are sometimes left in the dark about what comes next, the panel found.

The panel is proposing that legislators create a new Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders to make recommendations to the governor, the Legislature and state agencies related to autism, diagnosis, treatment, services and providers. The commission would oversee all autism services in the state.

The establishment of the commission and some other recommendations would require changes in state law. The panel wants to require insurance companies to cover autism spectrum disorders as neurological conditions and cover services such as behavioral, speech and physical therapy.

Another recommendation is to allow charter schools for children with autism to be built outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.

The report does not include cost estimates.

"There are several recommendations that will cost a lot of money. There are several recommendations that will cost very little money," Rupp said.

Other recommendations include standardizing diagnosis protocols, establishing long-term services for adults with autism, and increasing training programs for professionals and paraprofessionals who deal with people with autism. Respite care also would be provided for families.

The panel recommends establishing "best practices" guidelines to make treatments more uniform across the state. Other recommendations would allow parents to use educational waivers to enroll their child elsewhere if their current school district can't provide adequate services.

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