Autism is a genetic brain disorder whose occurrence has increased significantly in the past decade.
As you may know, autism is in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), characterized by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
According to a February 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 150 children under the age of eight have autism or an “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) such as Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
No one knows for sure what causes autism. A large movement led by parents of autistic children believe some vaccines play a major role. Some leading scientists believe chemicals in consumer products may be behind the rise.
It is vitally important that we continue to search out the cause for the rise in autism cases. At the same time, we must also provide the best care possible for autistic children in an effort to treat the disease’s symptoms. I am working on a specific piece of legislation set to be introduced this fall that affects families of military retirees struggling to care for an autistic child.
Active duty service members are hit particularly hard when a child is found to have autism. While in uniform, they have access to a benefit through TRICARE that provides $2500 a month (a max of $30,000/year) for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a treatment for the symptoms of Autism. It’s a good foundation for what can be a very expensive treatment process.
Unfortunately, the day an active duty soldier retires from the military their dependents lose access to the ABA health benefit that provides for autism treatment. For some military families already stretched thin by the high costs associated with the disease and long deployments overseas, they are left with a choice no parent wants to face: provide expensive treatments for their autistic child or keep their family clothed and fed.
The cost savings from autism treatment are clear. A Harvard School of Public Health report found that without effective intervention, approximately 90% of individuals with ASD require lifelong care costing an estimated $3.2 million over a child’s lifetime. ABA therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing this figure to less than 50% and reducing the costs of lifelong care by two-thirds
With the Department of Defense estimating there are 8,784 retirees with dependents diagnosed with an ASD, its clear this is a serious issue facing a growing number of our veterans and their families. Our soldiers risk their lives on the battlefield in service to their country. It is incumbent upon us to care for them and their families where appropriate once they return from duty. The treatment of ASD for dependents of military retirees is a worthy action that Congress should take. It is my hope that the knowledge and experience gained through this program will have broader benefits for all families of autistic children.