A pilot program has shown that Oklahoma does not have enough therapists and behavioral specialists to work with autistic children.


 A pilot program has shown that Oklahoma does not have enough therapists and behavioral specialists to work with autistic children.

Thirty families selected to take part in the autism two-year pilot project each could spend up to $12,360 a year on services for their autistic child.

"What we discovered was there are so few providers of those services to these families that the spending on the behavior therapies was pretty small," said Jim Nicholson, director of the developmental disabilities division of the state Department of Human Services. "There's a lack of service providers that had that kind of specialty training

"There aren't enough, particularly, skilled behavioral practitioners."

Each family on average spent about $4,500 a year on services for their autistic child, he said. The pilot program is to expire at the end of next month.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 150 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism, a developmental problem that affects a child's ability to interact and communicate with others.

Deborah Decker of Norman, a parent whose family was chosen to take part in the study, said she is disappointed the program is ending.

"It just opened up a lot of avenues that we wouldn't have had otherwise because it's just so expensive," said Decker, who developed a plan for her 6-year-old autistic son. "It was nice just to have that money to really do some intensive treatment with him."

Parents in the program were told how the money could be spent and what services might be best for their child, Decker said. Each family drew up a budget on how the money would be spent.

Decker said her family spent about $7,000 a year and would have spent more had more services been available.

Of the 30 families selected to take part in the program, 15 were from the Oklahoma City area and 15 were from the Tulsa area.

Several parents who came to the state Capitol earlier this year to speak in favor of autism legislation said they pay thousands of dollars each month for treatment for their children, with some traveling out of state for help. In most cases insurance won't cover all the fees.

A measure requiring insurance companies to cover autism received support in the Oklahoma Senate by Republicans and Democrats, but was stopped by House Republicans over concerns it could make health care coverage more expensive.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.