Autism can't be ignored

The meteoric rise in autism is the most pressing social issue of our time.

Just two decades ago, the likelihood of having a child with autism was one in 10,000. The latest report from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health now estimates the prevalence of autism to be 2 percent of children ages 6-17, or one in 50 children. Yet, it seems we accept this information with no outcry as autism still remains uncovered by insurance plans and underfunded in research dollars when compared to other childhood illness.

The number of children diagnosed with autism each year is greater than the number of children diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. To put it into perspective, here are some examples of where research funding goes each year to fight childhood diseases. Leukemia receives $277 million. Muscular dystrophy receives $162 million. Pediatric AIDS receives $394 million. Juvenile diabetes receives $156 million. Autism, which now affects one in 50 children, only receives $79 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. That is only six-tenths of 1 percent of the $35.6 billion the NIH annually donates.

It is time for us to open our eyes wide and see that the real threat to our country’s financial future lies in the health and well-being of our children.

The increase in autism only solidifies the immediate need for universal coverage of autism by all insurance companies especially in light of the research that was published in January. Deborah Fein, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Connecticut concluded as many as one in five children on the autistic spectrum can recover to where they are no longer considered autistic. Fein says the children who recover are more likely to have had behavioral therapy know as applied behavioral analysis.

For any parents faced with treating a child with autism, an uncovered medical condition by insurance, they are left scrambling on how to cover costs for treatment that can cost upwards of $50,000 per year for multiple years, in addition to finding treatment options on their own. Treatment is expensive; there is no way around it. But the reality of no treatment has serious consequence for our society as a whole. What will happen to all these children who turn into adults?

This is not an isolated case anymore. This is one in 50 children, and since the number keeps rising, when will it stop? At what number will it become a national priority to find out what is causing autism to try to prevent it? At what number will we have viable treatment options for all those diagnosed with autism?

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