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April is Autism Awareness Month

Every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is the fastest growing developmental disability with an average 17% growth rate each year.

The latest statistics show 1 in every 65 children in our state has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The estimate is about the same as the average number of children identified with ASD nationwide.

The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. This month is a time set aside to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism.

ASD is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Early diagnosis of ASD leads to early intervention. If children are diagnosed by age three, they are more likely to work and live on their own as independent adults.

Recognizing the impact ASD has on so many families, the Arkansas General Assembly created the Autism Task Force in 2009.

The purpose of the Task Force is to find the best practices for treating ASD and specific changes to the law that will improve treatment in the state.

A few years ago, the task force found that many private insurance plans were denying coverage for services and treatment for autism by classifying it as a “psychiatric disorder” or by classifying treatments for autism as “educational”. Their work led to the introduction and ultimate passage of Act 196 during the 2011 Regular Session. The bill, titled “An Act to provide health insurance coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder”, ensures coverage for thousands of families for ASD treatment. Studies show families of children with ASD are three times more likely to have one parent quit their job or reduce work hours to care for their children. They are more likely to pay more for their children’s health care needs, spend more time providing for that care and are more likely to have financial difficulties. The task force continues to meet on a regular basis to find ways to make care more accessible and affordable.

The Department of Human Services has posted valuable information including links to support groups and outreach centers on their website. Visit humanservices.arkansas.gov to learn more.

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