World Autism Awareness Day
> 4/2/2008 1:50:07 PM

Today marks the first World Autism Awareness Day, a time designated by the United Nations for heightened recognition of the struggles and successes of those on the autistic spectrum. CNN has devoted its health section to autism discussion over the recent days, soliciting personal stories from its readers and recruiting its senior medical producer to dispel a few of the most widespread myths about the disorder. To do our part, we'd like to share the story of a hard-won legal battle that is soon going to give health coverage to autistic children in South Carolina.

Doctors and parents are much more aware of autism than they were in the 20th century, and their watchfulness often catches developmental problems early when intervention is most likely to get results. However, the intensive behavioral therapy necessary to foster a healthy involvement in the world can easily cost as much as $80,000 per year. Lorri Unumb, the mother of an autistic child named Ryan, was shocked to find that her healthcare plan did not cover autism. Her claims were denied on the grounds that early intervention was experimental and merely "educational" rather than medically required.

Luckily for Ryan and many other children, Mrs. Unumb is a lawyer and a tireless fighter. Even while giving Ryan the extra attention that he needs, she introduced a bill that would require insurance plans to pay at least $50,000 a year towards behavioral therapy until the child reaches 17. Governor Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, but the House announced its overwhelming support for autistic children by overriding the veto with a unanimous 114-0 vote.

Ryan's Bill goes into effect this July. As the number of diagnoses are increasing (approximately one out of 150 children in the United States are now diagnosed with autism), it is vital that some system be put in place to take care of them. While it is true that autism is not fully understood, and no sure cure exists, it would be unfair to dismiss therapy as a frivolous pseudo-science. No parent can predict if their child will have autism-- all they can do is pay their premiums and expect their insurance company to help them if disaster strikes.

World Autism Awareness Day isn't over yet. If you have stories that you would like to share, please post them so that the world can learn from your experience.

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