Monday, December 14, 2009

Missouri: Support familes of children with Autism (and, ban texting!)

From the Parkville Luminary

You’d love to take your child to a restaurant, or maybe to a Royal’s game, but you know you’d better not try, given what could happen.

This sad reality is faced today by hundreds, if not thousands, of Missouri parents of children who have autism. A proposed bill being considered in the Missouri General Assembly aims to help make life a little better for the dedicated, tireless caregivers of children with autism.

The bill, filed in both the House and Senate last week, requires state regulated health insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism. These state regulated health insurers make up about one third of the overall market. The bill requires insurers to cover up to $72,000 annually for behavioral therapy for children. This kind of therapy helps kids with autism interact more positively with the world around them.

The bill deserves quick, unanimous passage.

As a parent of a child with autism, State Sen. Eric Schmidt of St. Louis knows how important insurance-covered therapy will be for Missouri’s families. “What the therapies really mean for families…is the difference between whether or not a mother can take her daughter to a movie, or a dad can take her son to a ball game,” Schmidt told the KC Star (12-04-09). What Schmidt means is that without intensive therapy, children with autism often don’t react well to unfamiliar environments like movie theaters or stadiums or restaurants. This can result in panic attacks, screaming, or other difficult-to-manage behaviors.

Of course, the heartless insurance companies are lined up against the legislation. Missouri Insurance Coalition Executive Director Calvin Call groused that the bill "sounds very expensive, sounds like a full blown mandate, sounds like special interests may get served at a very high price tag while others who are struggling to pay premiums may get priced out of the market." ( ) If by special interest he means differentially-abled children and their heroic parents, then I guess he has a point.

Insurance lobbyists claim that requiring autism coverage could raise premiums by more than 3 percent and force people to drop health coverage. But don’t believe everything you hear from the Scrooges in the insurance industry. An analysis by the advocacy group Autism Speaks ( estimates that an autism insurance requirement would result in a less than 1 percent increase in the cost of premiums. (

How many children are diagnosed with autism (1 in 150, or 1 in 91) depends on which source you ask. What is crystal clear is that autism, or at least the diagnosis of autism, is a rapidly growing phenomena. That’s why immediate passage of this legislation is crucial if we are to give Missouri families caring for children with autism the support that they so desperately need.

Another proposal currently being considered by the general assembly also deserves passage. Several bills have been filed for the 2010 session that would ban all texting while driving in Missouri. Currently, only those under 21 are prohibited from texting while driving.

It’s absurd, of course, that texting while driving is dangerous only for those under 21. This must mean that the rest of us can capably drive and text at the same time, right? Wrong. There is a mountain of data to support a texting ban, including one study that showed that texting truckers were 23 times more likely to have a collision, and a second that showed that about 6,000 people were killed and 500,000 injured last year by distracted motorists, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Once the texting ban is in place, the next step should be banning cell phone use in vehicles, including hands-free cell phones. Even with hands-free phones, drivers who are yakking on cell phones are still distracted drivers.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that as a college professor, I am especially sensitive to the ubiquity of cell phones and other odious IDP-type devices, particularly when they become an annoyance in my classroom. In fact, I may be writing my state representative, and ask for an amendment to the texting ban that would extend it to the university classroom.

--As always, check out my Peace Journalism website at:

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