Opinion: Autism families need Texas legislators to stand up for them

April begins another National Autism Awareness Month and this year, the Autism Society of Texas is taking it one step further and declaring it Autism Acceptance Month. We hope that Texans will take a moment during the month to learn more about this growing complex developmental disorder to help us embrace and celebrate neurodiversity within our communities.

Texans living with autism face an uncertain future without adequate funding from Texas legislators who are entrusted to serve the needs of all Texans.

With the rising population in Texas estimated in 2016 to be just over 28 million, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence at 1 in 68 or about 1 percent of the population, we can approximate that more than 300,000 Texans are living with autism. According to Texas Education Agency (TEA) data from 2015-2016 there were estimated to be over 54,000 school-age children with autism in Texas. The demand for support and services are at an all-time high.

From severe cuts to Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) programs to recent articles from the Houston Chronicle outlining an 8.5 percent cap for Special Education services by the TEA, the autism community is rightfully concerned about the lack of support from Texas leaders. Who are our champions in the Legislature who will stand up and fight for our autism community?

As the state’s oldest, grassroots autism organization, the Autism Society of Texas has seen a surge in demand for information and referrals, support, education, advocacy and community inclusion opportunities.

There are a variety of treatment options for autism. However, only a handful are covered by health insurance or Medicaid. Without Medicaid expansion to offer Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, the most effective evidence based treatment for autism, Texans living with autism must pay thousands of dollars each year for therapies, and treatment options are often limited.

Due to state and federal insurance laws, approximately 50 percent of insurance companies in Texas do not have to cover ABA therapy, leaving huge gaps in ABA coverage and families scrambling to get the best treatment available to help their child. These cuts trigger emotional and financial strains on families who face life-long therapeutic interventions with their loved ones.

For young adults and adults with autism who age out of school systems, rates of unemployment and underemployment remain around 80 percent. From cuts to early interventions, school-based based supports and long-term waiver options, many individuals with autism and autism advocates fear that additional reductions in program funding will diminish long-term outcomes for thousands of Texans living with autism.

The Autism Society of Texas, along with our autism partners, developed the Texas Autism Advocacy Alliance and are presenting a unified voice to legislators that strengthens our mission to improve the lives of all affected by autism. We will be at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 12 to host a Texas Autism Advocacy Day with legislators, staffers, parents, partners and most importantly, people with autism ready to tell their story and inform others about the challenges facing our community. We want to engage and show Texans that individuals with autism are vibrant, engaged community members who deserve support and recognition for their achievements.

The Alliance will continue to amplify our efforts to lead fulfilling lives by enhancing employment, educational, housing and transportation options for adults living with autism in Texas. We must do better by our autism families and hope that legislators will work with us to find solutions that will help Texans with autism lead healthy, productive and fulfilling lives.

Join us Wednesday at the Texas Capitol for Texas Autism Advocacy Day and help empower our autism community.

Potts is executive director of the Autism Society of Texas. Palomo is executive board president of the Autism Society of Texas.

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