Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Voice for the Voiceless in the Utah State Legislature

Autism Speaks is a national advocacy group representing the tens of thousands of parents across the nation who have children with Autism. Recently, Autism Speaks released a public service announcement highlighting the prevalence of Autism in our society with Tommy Hilfiger – a parent of child with Autism – providing the commentary.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobehavioral disorder that affects thousands of Utah pediatric patients.  Nationally, it is estimated that 1 in 88 patients is affected by autism spectrum disorder.  The prevalence is estimated to be even higher in Utah possibly affecting 1 in 47 children.  Why this prevalence is so high is not clear.  What is clear is that autism is even more common than many diseases such as breast cancer or juvenile diabetes.  Autism has devastating effects on the patients physically, behaviorally and intellectually.  It is often associated with other specific disease such as gastrointestinal and lung diseases.  Autism has collateral emotional, physical and financial stress on their families.

As we study autism, we learn about its complex genetic and environmental causes.  There are some studies that suggest that it may be decreased with prenatal vitamin and folate supplements. So far however, we have no single definitive cause and so more medical research still needs to be done.  We have made significant progress in treatment. One effective, evidence based therapy is early diagnosis and early intervention such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) on affected children.  There are clear improvements in those who receive this treatment. 

From a health care standpoint this is effective and high quality care.  From a fiscal standpoint, such prevention just makes sense.  With early intervention patients can have long lasting improvements in social interactions, communication and behavior.  This may avoid very costly long term care or even institutionalization.  Some patients even are able to move off the ASD spectrum with therapy and support.

Utah needs to re-evaluate the current health care insurance definition and coverage of Autism.   Autism is a real disease.  We need to define it.   We need to treat it just like we do other serious, long term afflictions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, for which we know that intervention has long term positive health and financial benefits. 

Parents and families should not have to face bankruptcy or foreclosure just to see that their children receive necessary treatments. We can and must do better as a society.

Previous efforts in the State Legislature have failed to fully address the problems that parents of children with Autism face in ensuring that their children are insured and receive effective treatments. As our next State Senator I will continue the dialogue and further the action surrounding Autism to see that it is fully addressed in the home, the clinic and in the Legislature.

Dr. Brian Shiozawa is a family physician and emergency room doctor who is running for State Senate District 8. He can be reached at (801) 230-3406.

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