Op-ed: We need a more powerful action plan to deal with autism
While the prevalence of autism has been increasing, there is still very little known about the condition. There are a variety of different statistics out there, including an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a staggering 1 out of 50 children being affected, making autism one of the most common forms of developmental disability.
Being a parent of a child with autism, I can sympathize with other families who may be frustrated and frightened because the cause remains unknown, and we truly don’t know what the future holds for our children. I can remember when my wife and I were first given our son’s diagnosis. Immediately, thoughts began racing through our heads, like will we be able to fix this? Will my son ever be able to live an independent life?
With all of the uncertainty involved with autism, there is one thing that holds true: Study after study has shown that early intervention in children with autism leads to a better outcome. Even though the autism spectrum is very broad, no matter where an individual is placed on the spectrum, they can only benefit from early interventions.
Children have shown an improvement in verbal skills, cognitive function as well as social skills when therapies, including ABA (applied behavioral analysis), are implemented.
I have witnessed first-hand tremendous progress with my son since his sessions began. Other families I speak with agree that their therapy sessions have had a huge impact on their child’s life. There are many things parents take for granted, like their children being able to express what they would like to eat, or where they would like to go. These achievements in communication skills are huge wins for many families with autistic children that may have not been possible without early interventions.
Unfortunately, there remains a lack of consistency as to what services are available for our children. Many insurance plans provide different coverage for autism, and various regions throughout the country offer different levels of access to these services. I personally had to leave a job that I loved just to get my child the services he desperately needed that another employer included in their insurance plan.
While my child’s current hours of available therapy are not as frequent as others, I’m still much better off than many people I know who aren’t receiving any services. This is not right. All families that have children with a diagnosis of autism should have access to services regardless of where they live or what insurance they carry. Though the costs of services are high, they can save millions of dollars throughout the individual’s life by eliminating dependence in their future.
Although there is still much more that needs to be known about autism, it is clear that when early intervention is implemented, the quality of life of the individual can be greatly improved. This issue needs to be addressed on a national level, and a more comprehensive policy needs to be put in place.
It’s essential that research continues to identify effective interventions, and that access to these treatments be made available to all families throughout our country so our children will have the highest quality of life possible.
John Palma is a resident of Wallingford.