Senate Bill 219 Autism Treatment Acceleration Act of 2009 Submitted to Committee

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Yesterday, April 2nd, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act of 2009, which has been since submitted to Committee.  The wording of the bill is not yet available, so I'm not sure what the bill is aimed to do, other than the short name for it, which is:A bill to provide for enhanced treatment, support, services, and research for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.I can only hope that it is similar to House Resolution 1707 submitted by Representative Granger (R-TX) to the house, which provides help for families who live with autism, and those with autism.  But this is a really good time to talk about what autism legislation should look like.  Autism is not a disease, but rather a condition in which those with autism learn differently.  They have a different method of processing stimuli, and as such need specific teaching methods to help them learn vital life skills.  Some have a more pronounced condition than others, and as such may or may not be able to learn those basic skill sets even with specific training.  The bottom line is:  no two autistic children are the same.  So what should legislation look like?  Well, there are two ways to go about Autism treatment.
  1.  Take the children away from the family and raise them by a team of specially trained teachers, therapists, and doctors that have the "magic powers" to do the job parents are not able to accomplish.  This was the mentality in the 50's to the 70's, and led to a lot of very dysfunctional families and autistic children.  It was also accompanied by electric shock therapy, physical restraints, and various other techniques that were popular during the Spanish Inquisition.  
  2. Teach the parents what to do, and have them perform the therapy in a loving, safe environment.  For those that don't have the option of spending all day with their child, provide the same training to the child's caregiver.  
I'm sure by the tone of each point that you know of which I am in favor, but let me tell you why:Autism is growing as a diagnosis, and that means there are more children out there that will need help.  Many parents who have one child with autism most likely will have another child with autism, so we are looking at whole families that need help.Autism therapies and schools are very, very expensive.  Health Insurance companies feel that they shouldn't have to pay for autism as a diagnosis, because it is somehow not a health condition.  It is very prohibitive for families to pay for this treatment in most cases, because the cost of treatment can exceed a single parent's annual income.  That is even more true in this time of economic trouble.  At the same token, because of the growing number of autism diagnoses, it becomes prohibitively expensive on Government of any size to provide full coverage where insurance companies will not.  The cost of staff alone for individual education for each child with autism becomes excessive.  Yet these citizens of our country need help, and they need that help as soon as they can.  How can it work and still be fiscally responsible? Personally, I think the answer is obvious:  Train the parents and care-givers, and provide them with the tools to help their children.  There are a number of benefits to this:
  1. Parents of autistic children generally have a vested interest in their success.
  2. Parents and care-givers can continue the techniques and training 24-7, or at least during all waking hours.  ^_^
  3. A mobilized, well-trained workforce with a personal vested interest is like a well-oiled machine:  it will just keep going with little maintenance.  
  4. The cost of a single, small training facility for parents and care-givers is far smaller than building several autistic children's developmental centers, and require less staffing in general.  
  5. Support and help can come from the community built around the classes and supplemental online portals.  This also makes it convenient to deploy learning materials.  
  6. Parents will have the ability and freedom to quickly adapt the training methods to fit their child's specific needs, without having to change methods for another autistic child in class.  
  7. Parents are smart individuals, and giving them real concrete methods to help their children is better than setting them loose on the internet or be at the whims of any idiot celebrity that has more money than brains.  Knowing what to do and how to do it will relieve the fear and anxiety that parents of autistic children experience.  
Now, there will be some possible problems, such as dead-beat parents that don't want to help their children.  But we already have a system in place to deal with such parents, and help those children.  Another nice thing about this program is that parents and care-givers will not be "milking" the system, as the only real benefit they have is getting to take a class for free that teaches them teaching methods.  They don't get voucher money that could be used for other purposes, they don't get free stuff that they would turn around and sell later, just knowledge that would empower them as individuals and families.  Of course, there may be some other holes in the system that I could be missing.  Feel free to mention any to me, because if we do get legislation that helps in this method, I want to be sure that it is done right!  Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading what Senator Durbin has proposed.  Hopefully it will be something that is fiscally responsible for all concerned while providing real, tangible benefit for families with autistic children.