The Maine House of Representatives will vote soon on a bill that could affect the autonomy of many children and families affected by autism. A falsity that continues to harm a large population of children in Maine is the belief that autism can be treated in just an educational setting.

Children with autism experience symptoms that include debilitating delays in social, emotional and behavioral development in all environments. These children demonstrate an inability to be safe in different environments without the help of professionals trained in evidence-based practices such as applied behavioral analysis.

Applied behavioral analysis can improve children’s functioning in relationships, communication, self-care, and also can help advance quality of life and independence. Private insurances are not mandated to cover treatment for autism past the age of 5.

Many families who have private health insurance are required to pay for these expensive services out of pocket. If they cannot afford to privately pay for services, parents must sit by and watch as their child deteriorates in order to gain access to public health care.

As a mental health provider for the past 12 years, I have witnessed the increase in the number of children suffering with autism entering long-term psychiatric hospitalizations and residential facilities. One out of 88 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and our education, mental health and health care systems are not prepared to adequately help children with autism.

L.D. 347, An Act to Amend Insurance Coverage for Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders, would mandate private insurance companies to extend their coverage to children older than 5 years. The act would allow parents to access medically necessary services, free from public assistance. Increasing the number of children with autism in services will give hope for this population to become independent adults in the community, helping Maine’s future.

Jessica LeBlanc Northport