Center celebrates passage of autism assistance legislation

People gathered Monday outside Draper Academic Building to celebrate a bill that was passed allowing autistic patients to receive more assistance from insurance companies. Balloons and cupcakes were handed out, and children had their faces painted.
Nick Berryman | Lariat Photographer

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

The Baylor Autism Resource Center hosted an event Monday night to celebrate and bring awareness to recently passed legislation that will require insurance companies to provide more coverage to autistic patients.

“We are celebrating the fact that with the increase in diagnoses of autism, families will have assistance and the support in order to help their child as best they can,” Dr. Julie Ivey-Hatz, director of the Baylor Autism Resource Center, said.

Virginia House Bill 2467 and the accompanying Senate Bill 1062 both require health insurers, health care subscription plans and health maintenance organizations to provide coverage, worth up to $35,000 a year, for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children ages 2 to 6. Autism Votes, an autism advocacy program, and Virginia State Reps. Tag Greason and Tim Hugo supported the bills.

“We celebrate the fact that the Senate and House recognize that early intervention is what help children succeed the most and we enjoy celebrating accomplishments and things that happen within the community of autism,” Ivey-Hatz said.

Students in the School of Social Work reached out to the Baylor Autism Resource Center with the idea to host the event. The social work students had been following the legislation as part of a class assignment and decided to host an event to celebrate the bills becoming active.

Graduate student Ashley Noble said the event celebrates the acknowledgment that families of autistic children need resources and help with therapies for autism.

“We just wanted to show that the Baylor Autism Resource Center is a support for those in the community and for those that have children with autism and for the children themselves,” Noble said.

Ivey-Hatz said she believes the type of resources outlined in the bills were not previously covered for autistic patients because they can be expensive, and if there is not a lot of research that proves treatments are effective, insurance companies are sometimes leery of covering them.

Noble works with autistic children at the Baylor Autism Resource Center every week in social circle groups. The groups are led by first-year graduate students in the psychology program and help the children with various social skills.

“It is definitely a time when children with autism can come in a relaxing and fun environment, and through informal means we can help develop social skills as simple as interacting with their peers,” Noble said. “As a graduate student we are immersed in the first year of the program, allowing us from the beginning to work hands-on with the children and to gain a lot of experience.”

Noble said she believes the event showed that the Baylor Autism Research Center supports children with autism in the community and their families.

“I think autism is becoming a much more relevant topic and I think that Baylor needs to be aware of how important it is to provide options and support for these families,” Noble said. “Through the Baylor Autism Research Center we can help make a difference.”

The event was informal and included cupcakes, face painting and games for the children. Autistic children involved with the center’s social circle groups and their families were invited to attend.

Ivey-Hatz said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that one out of 90 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. To diagnose children, doctors look at how they respond socially and how they communicate. They also look for odd or unusual behavior such as rocking or varied speech.

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder, and symptoms range from mild to severe, typically lasting throughout a person’s lifetime. The disorder is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, lack of social abilities and by repetitive behaviors. Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder fall under Autism Spectrum Disorders.

April is Autism Awareness Month and the Baylor Autism Resource Center will host its fourth annual autism walk April 16. Ivey-Hatz said the walk is a great way to promote awareness for autism.

The Baylor Autism Resource Center was opened in January 2008 with a grant from the Waco Foundation and support from Baylor.

The center serves Waco and its surrounding community and provides resources to the community and information about autism research.