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Advocates Say Illinois Families Need More Help for Autistic Children


Tuesday, December 27, 2022   

The rate of autism among American children has grown steadily over the past three decades, but advocates say funding support is not keeping up with the need for services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in 30 eight-year-old children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, up 52% from 2017 and 178% since 2000.

Health and social service advocates say early intervention is helping more Illinois children with the developmental disease, but insurance and other assistance plans need to be improved.

Maureen Karwowski, vice president of clinical services for Easterseals of DuPage and Fox Valley, said while Medicaid covers some diagnosis and treatment, its policies have not been updated in years.

"Families that have Medicaid as a funding source are very limited, and providers that provide services are very limited in how many clients with Medicaid they can accept," Karwowski explained. "The ideas always start from need, and then from there we try and figure out a way to fund them and sustain them over time."

Karwowski reported her agency sees as many as 1,000 kids a week to diagnose the condition and provide developmental therapy for families to build healthy social, emotional and intellectual interactions between a caregiver and their children.

Karwowski pointed out the Easterseals clinic specializes in the early evaluation of kids as young as two years old to determine if a child is on the autism spectrum. The clinic also provides occupational, speech and mental-health therapists. She noted each child is evaluated and put on an individualized program.

"We have an autism diagnostic clinic with a psychologist and a host of therapists looking at all the areas of development," Karwowski emphasized. "We just know that early diagnosis and a really good evaluation early on would really assist the family in starting their journey."

Karwowski stressed, on average, there are 1,600 children referred to early intervention providers each month, but there are not enough therapists in Illinois to treat them. She added the state needs to update its decade-old pay scale for Medicaid providers.

Disclosure: Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Disabilities, Early Childhood Education, Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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