Monday, October 30, 2017

Children with autism hurt by budget cuts

(NOTE: The services and evaluations referred to in this article are services outside of the school system. The evaluation process will not change for public schools.)

Montana’s budget crisis has serious implications for Big Sky families seeking autism services, particularly those in the Great Falls area.
Specialists who focus on behavior, speech, and development when diagnosing children on the autism spectrum will go from five organizations to only three doctors for the entire state.
The former five organizations had contracts to perform transdisciplinary evaluations - the gold standard nationwide to determine where a child is on the autistic spectrum - but in 2016 the state decided to no longer cover these transdisciplinary evaluations. 
Families could now wait up to a year for this particular test according to Sandi Hursh, the director of Children Services at Quality Life Concepts in Great Falls.
In 2015, the federal government required that states start an autism service plan for children with Medicaid, which put an end to the Children's Autism Waiver Program.

As of July 2017, Hursh said that the QLC couldn't give transdisciplinary evaluations because of budget cuts. Families now have to be referred to Missoula, Billings, or Helena to see one of the three qualified specialists for evaluations.
"We are very concerned because there is nobody in this region that does a transdisciplinary evaluation for diagnosing autism," said Hursh.
She added that if they do get in, families will have to cover the evaluation cost and that could be between $1,500 to $2,000. While doctors can do autism tests, Hursh said many times it is based on what the parents see and will not give the same types of results as a transdisciplinary evaluation.