Here's an update on work accomplished for autism services

Friday, July 3, 2009

Recently, the Southeast Missourian ran an article highlighting the services that will be available through the Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment, which is expected to open at the end of this year. The story also addressed the concerns of some parents that the center may not offer enough services for their situation. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the work we have completed on a state level to help families dealing with autism. Our work continues, and I want to let you know some of the goals we have for the future of autism services and resources in our state.

In Southeast Missouri, we have seen a 107 percent increase in school-age autism diagnoses. In 2007 alone, the number of students in our area that use autism services grew to 290 students from 90 students. This is why I remain dedicated to improving access to services to local families dealing with this neurological disorder.

Funding for autism has come a long way. Before 2005, Missouri's budget did not include any specific funding to support autism programs. Our efforts to provide better support for autism resources began in 2007. We have continued this important funding, which totals $9.4 million this fiscal year.

I have also worked to get funding specifically for local resources in our community. In the past, families in Southeast Missouri in need of autism services had to travel to other areas for treatment. In 2007, we passed legislation that included $2.6 million for the Southeast Missouri Autism Center. In 2008, we secured an additional $494,000 in operating and startup funds for the center. The 11,582-square-foot facility will include numerous therapy areas that will be equipped with special observation areas. This includes rooms designed specifically for music therapy, occupational therapy and life-skills training. As well as specializing in autism diagnosis and treatment, the center will be equipped with conference and training space for parent education, staff meetings and university instruction.

We also secured $200,000 for the Tailor Institute in Cape Girardeau, an organization that works with those who have been diagnosed with autism on the high-functioning spectrum, allowing them to reach their full potential. Living independently and obtaining employment are just some of the goals that can be achieved through the Tailor Institute's work. We have been able to secure this funding for their important work annually since 2006.

Our work continues with legislation we hope to pass during the upcoming session to help alleviate some of the challenges families and individuals living with autism deal with every day. The legislation would require insurance companies that issue or renew health benefit plans to provide coverage for diagnosis and treatment of individuals with autism up to age 18. Autism is the only one of 12 neurological disorders not covered by many insurance companies, and we must end this unfair lack of coverage. The insurance requirement will be especially helpful for families with older children who are struggling to pay out of pocket for treatment. I will work hard to get this legislation passed during the 2010 legislative session.

There is always more work to be done to help those struggling with autism, and I understand the frustrations of many parents as they deal with waiting lists and other barriers to getting care for their children. Please know that I remain dedicated to expanding on the accomplishments we have already made, and I am working to bring additional services to our area.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate.

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