@NCCapitol

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Bill would increase access to autism treatment in NC

Posted February 23, 2021 1:32 p.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2021 7:50 p.m. EST

— A proposal to make treatment for people with autism more accessible in North Carolina has wide bipartisan support as it's moving through the legislature.

House Bill 91, which passed the House Health committee unanimously on Tuesday, would allow board-certified therapists who use applied behavior analysis to be licensed so they can practice independently.

North Carolina is the only state to require therapists to be supervised by a specialized psychologist. With only 62 of those psychologists in the state and an estimated 65,000 children statewide on the autism spectrum, waiting lists can be hundreds of names long, if there's a local provider at all.

Kyle Robinson said his wife quit her teaching job seven years ago so their son, Samuel, who's now 9, could get behavioral therapy for his autism. Mother and son would leave their Greenville home every week for his treatment in Winston-Salem, returning home on weekends.

The family later started a nonprofit to help other families in eastern North Carolina get access to treatment.

"The wait list in eastern North Carolina is long. It's extensive," Robinson said. "We're one of the lucky families to be able to gain access to care."

Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, said his two sons have autism. He said he also feels lucky because he and his wife live in a metro area where they can get treatment for their boys. He said he's heard from countless others in rural areas who are desperate for help for their children.

"This is almost emotional for me. ... This will change families," Hawkins said. "One thing we know is autism isn't going anywhere. So, the ability to make sure that the intervention my sons receive everyone else can, this is what we're supposed to be doing."

Rep. Kristin Baker, R-Cabarrus, a child psychiatrist, said the behavioral therapy goes beyond children to help adults with autism as well.

"It can cause improvements over multiple settings and over a lifespan," Baker said. "This is going to make an impact in life skills, in social skills, in school and academic learning and in the work force."

Monique Baker, who runs an applied behavioral analysis firm, said she has had to put treatment sessions on hold because the supervising psychologist is resigning and she hasn't been able to find a replacement.

"This North Carolina-specific barrier creates huge issues with access to care, causes long wait lists and forces higher costs to businesses," Baker said.

The House has approved similar proposals in past sessions, but they have always gotten hung up in the Senate. This year, Senate leaders have pledged to move the idea forward.

"If we, as lawmakers and leaders, are going to think about problems that we face and our ability to make a difference and impact lives – this certainly impacts families and children – then we have to be willing to look at obvious problems like that and come up with very reasonable solutions," said Sen. Jim Perry, R-Wayne.

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