Thursday, April 25, 2013

New state program to pay for autism treatment for young children

For information on the Autism Waiver program, call (800) 341-2003 in Oakland County or 586-948-0222 in Macomb County.


A West Bloomfield woman spent $150,000 during the past year for treatments to help her 9-year-old son Cal who has autism.

“Not every family of a child with autism can afford such costs,” said Val Welling McFarland. “Some insurers will provide treatment (called Applied Behavioral Analysis) but not all.”

However, this changed for many of the thousands of children in Michigan born with autism. Autism has become almost an epidemic with one in every 88 newborns being diagnosed with the cognitive disorder.

On April 1, the state of Michigan started an “Autism Waiver” program which provides treatment at no cost for children diagnosed with autism who are between 18 months and six-years-old. The child, however, must be eligible for Medicaid or MiChild, a low-cost health coverage program for children under the age of 19.

The waiver program provides for the Applied Behavior Analysis, said Frances Groce, a psychologist and autism expert.

“It will give the parent of those with autism the opportunity to secure effective treatment that was financially out of reach before. This is time-intensive treatment and involves direct service to a child from a psychologist or parent or other expert.”

The first step in being accepted into the program is receiving a diagnosis of autism. Then the child is given a behavior assessment to determine the child’s needs, she said.

“We use tools to measure the social skills and communication abilities of the child. A lot of the children we originally get can’t attend school so they might, at first, be taught at home,” Groce said. “They still may go to school; but may be sent home early if unable to participate due to a challenging behavior, or only go to school for a partial day.”

There are clinics in Auburn Hills and Clinton Township operated by the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center where “the child with autism can receive treatment without any distractions and there’s one-to-one interaction between the clinician and the child.”

“Once progress is made we go into the child’s home and continue the process so that all the skills learned in the clinics transfer to the home and any other place the child might go,” Groce said.

One part of the process is “gentle teaching” techniques which help develop rapport and trust between the child with autism and the clinician. “Hugs are allowed as are pats on the back as well as verbal encouragement.”

“There’s lots of research that shows these methods are successful in improving someone with autism’s ability to communicate, form relationships and perform activities of daily living),” she said. If the programs are started early enough some children can be mainstreamed into public/private schools, and don’t need specialized classrooms or supports.”

Jerry Wolffe is the Disability Rights Advocate at MORC.Inc,. a nonprofit that serves 5,100 people with disabilities in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.