Every child with autism deserves treatment

Missoulian Guest Column 12/22/2015

With a prevalence of one in 68 children, autism spectrum disorder and its effective treatment should interest us all. Today, most of us know someone with autism: someone in our own family, a neighbor, the classmate of one of our kids or grandkids, or a coworker’s child.

Without effective treatment, the cost of supporting a person with autism over a lifetime can be as high as $2.4 million. Fortunately for taxpayers, this cost can be reduced by as much as 2/3 with early diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately for children with autism, this early intervention means their futures can be brighter.

Montana legislators deserve a big thank you for last spring’s decision to add autism treatment to Medicaid’s Healthy Montana Kids+ plan. Now is the time to ensure an effective treatment plan is in place for this new benefit.

Years of scientific research informs us that—in order for children on the autism spectrum to achieve best outcomes—autism treatment needs to meet three basic standards: Treatment should be evidence-based, provided by qualified professionals and delivered directly to the individual with autism.

We also know that the effects of direct treatment can be significantly enhanced by the addition of parent education. There’s no evidence that parent education without direct treatment will result in improved outcomes for children with autism.

Under the rules proposed by the state, many children with autism will receive no direct treatment through Medicaid. For these children, treatment will consist of parent education only. Private insurance companies are required to fund direct treatment to children with autism, and to provide specialized education to their parents. Montana Medicaid should be held to the same treatment standard.

The legislators and community members who championed the addition of autism treatment to Medicaid will be disappointed by the results of a treatment that does not include the person with the diagnosis. Taxpayers will be burdened by the results. Parents and their children with autism will suffer the subpar results.

You can impact the life of a child with autism by making a public comment regarding the need for each Medicaid-funded child to receive direct treatment and parent education. Improving the lives of individuals with autism isn’t only the right thing to do for a child, it’s a long term cost-saving measure that will benefit every tax payer and strengthen every Montana community.

Tell the state “every Montana child with autism deserves direct treatment AND parent education” by sending your comments to: Mary Eve Kulawik, Medicaid State Plan Amendment and Waiver Coordinator at mkulawik@mt.gov or call her directly at (406) 444-2584. The deadline for submitting comments is Wednesday, Dec. 23 by midnight.

Karlyn Gibbs writes on behalf of the Child Development Center, a nonprofit serving children in western Montana who have developmental delays or disabilities, including autism.