Research has shown that early treatment of autism is crucial to a child’s long-term development. All states now cover autism therapy through Medicaid and have laws that require private health plans to cover autism therapy.
However, there are still barriers to access, and the pandemic has exacerbated the already challenging process of getting treatment. Children often must wait months and sometimes even more than a year to get diagnosis and treatment. Statistics also show that children from minority communities and those who live in rural areas face additional roadblocks to getting help. “The impact on families having to wait for diagnosis or treatment can be devastating,” said Kristin Jacobson, founder of the Autism Deserves Equal Coverage Foundation, an advocacy group in California.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many families canceled their in-home services and treatments due to fear of infection. Virtual therapy was not as successful, especially for nonverbal and younger children. With fewer clients, providers had to lay off staff or shut down their facilities. COVID-19 also made the staffing problem more difficult because now companies struggle to compete with the rising wages in other sectors.
The CDC estimates that autism effects 1 in 44 U.S. children and includes symptoms of communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors as well as a range of developmental and psychiatric health conditions. Early diagnosis of autism can make a huge difference. Children who begin their therapy by age two or three can successfully reduce their symptoms.
The providers that typically complete autism diagnosis include developmental-behavior pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists, but all have staff shortages. Dr. Michelle Zeanah, a behavioral pediatrician, draws families from 60 mostly rural counties to her clinic in Statesboro, Georgia. “There’s a massive shortage of people willing and able to do an autism diagnosis,” she said.
April is autism awareness month, join SDI Labs in raising awareness and supporting families affected by autism. #LightItUpBlue