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The Autism Gap: What Works

8:49 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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EMORY, Ga. -- "Every family we meet is struggling."

As the Assistant Director of the Emory Autism Center, Michael Morrier says he gets more than a half dozen calls from desperate parents every day.

"I get phone calls from parents, probably seven a day, that want to know what we offer and we tell them, and they say 'I can't afford that.'"

But for those who can afford the $25,000 dollar a year tuition, The Walden Early Childhood Center at the Emory Autism Center can be life changing for a child with autism.

MORE | Sign the petitions for or against mandating insurance plans cover autism and see our complete The Autism Gap special coverage

"In each class, one third of the children have a diagnosis of autism and two thirds are typically developing children." Morrier explains, "Deficits in social behavior are sort of the hallmark of autism. So we feel in order to teach normalized social behavior you need to have normalized social behavior models."

This early intervention program is so effective that a third who graduate from it are indistinguishable from their peers.

Across town at the headquarters for Autism Speaks, a small group of dedicated mothers brainstorm. They've heard the names of the lawmakers reportedly trying to kill the bill. Judith Ursitti handles state government affairs for Autism Speaks. She tries to assure everyone that this sort of battle is expected.

"Passing a piece of health care legislation is always hard. But it was hard in Texas. It was hard in South Carolina. It was hard in Arkansas. It was hard in Louisiana. It was hard in West Virginia."

For families without money, the only option left is the school system. And while schools can help a child, they can't replace the intensive therapies that lead to dramatic change, like in 8 year old Ava Bullard's case. She went from non verbal to high functioning after years of one-on-one specific treatment.

Developmental pediatrician Doctor Alan Weintraub says, "What the lay public doesn't understand is that those therapies are educationally based, they're not medically based, so the intensity--  they're not the same level."

The reality is that some families are leaving Georgia for states with autism insurance, like Florida and South Carolina. Melissa Solares is one year and $100,000 dollars into her son's autism diagnosis. "I remember the first time he said 'Mama I love you.' And that's why I keep working. That's why everyday I get up and I'm exhausted and we're broke from it, but it's because I look at him and he says 'Mama I love you.' So that's why I keep everyday. And we can't give up."

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