EXTRA: Autism in Alabama
Autism. It is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders.
And it affects one in 68 children in the U.S.
It can cost an average family 60 thousand dollars a year.
Yet, Alabama is one of the few states that does not mandate insurance to cover the costs for therapy.
“Our biggest fear is as they get older, they can not function out there. My biggest fear is when I am not around…how will he cope?” said Maria Sahonic.
It’s a daily struggle from Maria Sahonic and her 30 year old autistic son, Wesley, who lives at home.
Wesley was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old. And ever since, it has been a battle to teach him what most other children seem to grasp at an early age.
“Mainly, because I just don’t know. I just don’t know. There are a lot of things to consider and I haven’t the slightest clue about most of them.”
While he is home, he is okay. But it’s a different story when he goes out in the world.
Right now, Maria and her husband are working with him to try to get a job. But just the thought of going to talk to someone for an interview creates a lot of anxiety for Wesley.
“I noticed him scratching his arms, his hair,” said Maria.
” The problem I have with all the forms and stuff… They ask for so much information and half the time I don’t know what to put down in it. Just so much to process. A person can only take so much at one time,” said Wesley.
“For us, it may be excited to do something new. For them, it’s just… Mindboggling. It’s terror… Pure terror,” said Maria.
Maria and her husband have done what they can do… But she says he needs help to be able to function outside of the home.
“We just can’t do it all. All the demands whether its diet, therapies. We have speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy. And that’s just to name a few,” said Maria.
Right now, Alabama is one of five states that does not mandate insurance companies to cover the cost of therapy.
So it leaves families like the Sahonics paying huge costs.
“Depending on where they are going, some parents are paying between 150, 300, 400 dollars depending on where they are getting the services,” said Maria.
And that’s per visit.
With no cure to autism, the therapy is the only way people like Wesley can cope with their disorder. And if it’s not continued….. They can regress.
“As he approaches going out to get a job that he does need to talk to somebody about it. He does need therapy to allow him to air his frustrations, because even though he is very verbal, he’s not able to let us know what his needs are. He’s not able to let us know what his anxieties are,” said Maria.
“That kind of falls back on the comfort zone thing, if we don’t know what we are getting into… We crash,” said Wesley.
In 2012, Alabama passed a bill that would help autistic children. Senator Cam Ward was instrumental in getting it passed.
He says right now insurance companies are required to offer some therapies, but employers aren’t choosing it.
“We are really going to have to be firmer than we have been. They are there, but you also have to have the business community buy in on it because what happens is, the insurance agency could be mandated to offer it, but the company or employer has to be the one to agree to take it,” said Ward.
Maria is a part of Autism Speaks, an organization that advocates for autism reform.
Each year, they rally at the capitol steps and each year hope this will be the year the legislature hears their voice.
“When we’re not around, he needs to be able to speak up for himself and advocate for himself in a manner that is accepted by others.”
She hopes the new legislation for autism comes sooner rather than later because while Wesley has his own fears and anxieties to deal with, Maria has her own.
“Although I acknowledge we have been able to do as much as we possibly could, I have that fear for him. That unless he gets the help that he needs and a lot of the other children get the help they need, they won’t be able to function. And that’s what we all want as parents. We want them to be able to make it and I want him to live as independently as he can,” said Maria.
Earlier this week, the Alabama Senate Health Committee voted to carry over a bill that would have provided funding for early intervention in Autism cases in children ages 4 to 9 yrs old.
Senator Gerald Allen from Tuscaloosa says it did not make it out of the committee. But it could be brought up at a later time. He says as of right now there is not any autism insurance legislation to be discussed this session.