NJ Looks to Expand Services for Those With Autism

New Jersey Assembly members are poised to vote on legislation that would provide more assistance for people with autism.

The Garden State has the nation’s highest autism rate, and officials have moved in recent years to raise awareness about the disorder and encourage early diagnosis and early intervention. New Jersey recently became the 15th state to require expanded health insurance coverage for autism, and also has established a centralized statewide autism registry and trains teachers in autism awareness.

The two measures scheduled for a vote Monday mostly target adults with autism.

One bill would permit them to voluntarily place their names on a new state registry that officials say would help improve planning and other services for those with autism spectrum disorders. Adults could register themselves or be listed by a health care or service provider.

The other would revise the state’s discrimination laws to specifically prohibit discriminatory acts against people with autism.

Both measures are sponsored by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, and were recommended by the Adults with Autism Task Force that was created under a law he sponsored. Both were approved late last month by the Assembly’s Health and Senior Services Committee.

Via NJ Looks to Expand Services for Those With Autism

Missouri Lawmakers Push to Mandate Autism Insurance Coverage for Kids

A group of Republican lawmakers joined Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday to push legislation that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for certain therapies for autistic children.  Lawmakers attempted this last session but concerns about the cost of a mandate ended up killing the bill in the House. Those concerns remain but Nixon pledges 2010 will be the year that autism coverage becomes mandatory in Missouri.

As the mother of two boys with autism, Elizabeth Obrey has seen the progress that regular therapies can produce.  Her 4-year-old Chase now plugs through his A-B-Cs.  Her 7-year-old Nathan is opening up, beginning to read.

Their schooling is not cheap.  Even with insurance and a $500 monthly co-pay, Obrey pays thousands of dollars each year out of pocket for classes at Rivendale Center for Autism in Springfield. It is an overwhelming financial burden.

“When we moved, we sold a house and a business and that money, instead of reinvesting it in a house, it went to their therapies,” said Obrey.

With Nixon’s backing, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing legislation that would not only mandate insurance companies provide coverage — up to $72,000 a year — but prevent them from refusing or restricting therapies.

“We know that 1 in 100 kids are being diagnosed, and we know that 1 in 58 boys born today will be diagnosed,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale.

“As many of us know, autism is one of 12 major neurological disorders and the only one of those 12 that’s excluded from coverage by insurance carriers.  We believe that is grossly discriminatory and a civil rights issue,” said Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Valley Park.

Obrey said she talks to many parents who would jump at the chance to put their children in a program like Rivendale but who have no financial option to do so.

Arguments against the bill are a concern about the financial burden that could be placed on small businesses and the impact a mandate could have on already rising healthcare insurance premiums.

“This is another mandated benefit and, just like any other mandate, there is a certain amount of cost to require companies to provide that coverage, and, the smaller the group, the larger the impact,” said Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.

For Obrey, even without coverage, she’ll sacrifice for her sons, because there’s no price for a chance at normalcy.

“I do think that our children are being excluded,” she said.  “If my child had cancer, would you pull chemo from them?”

Via Missouri lawmakers push to mandate autism insurance coverage for kids

Autism Odds: The Diagnosis is as Puzzling as the Behavior

“When you take a drug to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, you have an objective test to measure blood pressure and the amount of sugar in the blood. It is straightforward,” writes Temple Grandin. “With autism, you are looking for changes in behavior.”

Though she’s a PhD and a professor at Colorado State, Grandin is not a professional autism expert—in fact, her field is animal behavior. Rather, she’s described by the Autism Society as “inarguably the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world,” and she’s the author of books on both animal behavior— Animals Make Us Human, Animals in Translation—and autism: Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life With Autism.

As Grandin has recognized, diagnosing and even defining autism is challenging. Though parents whose children are severely autistic never argue about the syndrome, others say that the spectrum of the disorder is so wide that proper diagnosis is a puzzle with too many pieces. No wonder the prevalence, causes, and treatments of autism are so hotly debated.

Via Autism Odds: The Diagnosis is as Puzzling as the Behavior

For Student With Autism, Having Service Animal in School Is ‘Lifesaver’

Kaleb Drew, a first-grader with autism with severe speech and developmental delays in central Illinois, recently received some good news from a county judge: His best friend, Chewey, a 70-pound yellow Labrador retriever, who has been his constant companion in school since August, would be allowed to continue to accompany him to school every day.

Chewey is an autism service dog trained by Autism Service Dogs of America, an organization outside of Portland, Ore., that prepares dogs to live with children who have autism. The dogs are trained to increase the child’s mobility and socialization and to provide a calming influence that allows the child to make greater academic progress in school.

For Kaleb, Chewey is his lifeline and his guardian angel, says his mom, Nichelle. After receiving the dog last spring, Kaleb has had fewer emotional outbursts, he is better able to focus and transition from one activity to another during class, and he does not try to run away from people—which has in the past resulted in dangerous situations in the school parking lot—since Chewey is tethered to him and acts as a physical restraint. However, if the Villa Grove school district had its way, Kaleb would have to do without Chewey at school. District officials argued in court earlier this month that the dog is not a true service animal and does not perform tasks that benefit Kaleb academically.

Via For Student With Autism, Having Service Animal in School Is ‘Lifesaver’

Researchers Associate Diverse Spectrum of Neurological Problems to Chromosome Abnormalities with Autism

Researchers at Signature Genomic Laboratories, which performs diagnostic genetic testing of chromosome abnormalities in individuals with unexplained physical and developmental disabilities, including autism, recently characterized a broad spectrum of developmental and behavior problems in individuals with a DNA imbalance that has been associated with autism.

Although the causes of autism are not well understood, it has long been established that genetic predisposition is a primary determinant of susceptibility to autism. Recent searches for genetic aberrations in large populations of individuals with autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have identified missing or extra copies of a small portion of DNA on chromosome 16 in a few of these individuals.

Via  to Researchers Associate Diverse Spectrum of Neurological Problems to Chromosome Abnormalities with Autism

Autism Test in Children May Turn to the Eyes

One of the most frustrating aspects of autism for doctors and parents is the lack of a definitive tool for diagnosing the developmental disorder in children.

Now, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia report some early results that point to a potential testing method involving the pupil of the eye.

Using changes in light, the researchers compared the pupil response times of children with autism to a control group of other children.

The pupils of young people who had previously been diagnosed with autism were slower to constrict when presented with a flash of light.

The test was 92.5 percent accurate in predicting which children had autism, researchers said.

Via Austism Test in Children May Turn to the Eyes