Michigan reveals goals for state autism services

By Alanna Durkin

Associated Press

LANSING (AP) -- State health officials laid out long-term goals Monday designed to improve access to services for the estimated 50,000 people living with autism spectrum disorders in Michigan, including more early screening and the creation of a state resource center to provide families with information about services.

The Autism Spectrum Disorders State Plan revealed by the Michigan Department of Community Health and Autism Council identifies gaps in the availability of services and makes recommendations for how to improve the lives of adults and children with autism spectrum disorders. The group of developmental brain disorders includes autism, Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, whose daughter in kindergarten has been diagnosed with autism, said the overall goal is that eventually, "Michigan will be the place to be if you're a family that is living with an autism spectrum disorder."

The plan calls for increased early screening for autism spectrum disorders by primary care providers to allow those who need treatment to get it sooner.

According to the report, many primary care providers are not aware of the early signs of autism spectrum disorders. The report calls for more and better training of primary care providers to help them identify symptoms that could point to a disorder.

Amy Matthews, vice-chair of the Autism Council, said the number of children diagnosed with autism is "continuing to rise dramatically." According to the report, one in every 88 children is affected by an autism spectrum disorder today.

Another area the state needs to focus on is services for adults on the autism spectrum, according to the report.

More than 45 percent of parents with children ages 13 to 25 said they needed better access to things like higher education and employment services to help their child transition to adulthood, according to the report.

The report calls for the creation of a state resource center where adults living with autism and their families can get information and be connected to available services.

The plan will be implemented by the Autism Council, a group within the MDCH, which was created last June when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed an executive order. The department did not lay out a timeline for when the entire plan will be put in place.

Last year, Calley signed a bill mandating that insurance companies provide coverage for autism treatment for children. Starting in October, insurers have been able to be reimbursed through a $15 million autism coverage incentive fund.

To date, the state has reimbursed only about $13,500 from that fund in claims, said Al Pohl, finance director for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in an email.

The fund has been underutilized in part because there aren't enough behavioral therapists in Michigan to meet demand, Calley said. "There just wasn't anybody to get the services from," he said.

He said over the last year, more behavioral therapists have come to Michigan and as a result the state "will naturally see the insurance claim activity increase with the providers," he said.

Calley said that while the goals laid in the plan are a "big, big job," the state needs to commit to "making progress every single day, even if it's a small step."

Published: Wed, Mar 20, 2013