I received an email a few days ago requesting 1-page letters from military families who have children with autism to be read at a Senate Subcommitte hearing this Wednesday. The hearing is to push for ABA Therapy to be covered by insurance for not just active duty members as it is now, but also for all Federal Employees and for retired service members as well. This request hit home because 1. I’m looking to retire in 5 years and am not sure how I will pay for ABA for 2 children and 2. Writing about autism has become a new hobby of mine, and I think I’m pretty good at it! So I decided to write a letter. And then I decided to post it here. Thanks for reading.
To the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel:
My name is MSgt Melinda Burts, and I have been an active duty member of the United States Air Force for 15 years. My oldest son, SB, was diagnosed with autism at 20 months old in 2006. My husband and I were devastated. He was completely non-verbal and behaviorally was nearly impossible to control. I cannot express how thankful my husband and I are that SB was able to receive ABA Therapy beginning at age 2, and that this therapy was covered under my Tricare insurance. Although the road has been frustrating and challenging at times, SB’s progress has been truly astounding. He has been receiving ABA Therapy now for over 5 years. He just completed first grade in a mainstream classroom. He still has plenty of academic and behavioral issues to work on, but he was able to handle the kindergarten and first grade academic curriculum with some special education support. He was even identified by the Advanced Academics Teacher for being gifted in math, and received weekly group instruction in advanced math concepts. He is a success story (yet still a work in progress) and I truly believe he would not have made these strides without years of intensive ABA Therapy.
My husband and I watched our younger son, AB, very closely for signs of autism throughout his infant and toddler years. His language, cognitive, and social skills seemed to be on track for a while. But at age 4, we started to notice delays in some of these areas and also a few familiar autism behaviors. AB was diagnosed with autism in November of 2011 at age 4. His condition is milder than his older brother’s, but he has issues that definitely need to be addressed. Again, my husband and I are relieved that we have access to ABA Therapy that is covered by Tricare, and AB has already made progress in many areas in the few months he has been receiving therapy.
I cannot imagine how my family could have survived financially if I had been paying for this therapy without the help of insurance. The going rate for a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) is $150 per hour, and the going rate for an ABA Tutor is $50 per hour. If I add up the services that my children currently receive in a typical month, at these rates it comes to $3800 for SB and $2400 for AB, for a total of $6200 per month. But because each child with autism is different, the services that each child needs can vary. Also, the services that a child needs can vary at different times in his life. For example, SB was having some behavioral difficulties at school this year, and our BCBA spent a lot of time at his school working with his teachers to create a behavior plan for him. It was extremely successful and all of his teachers agree that his behaviors improved drastically after the plan was put in place. But this required our BCBA to spend as much as 15 hours a week at his school for several weeks. This comes to an extra $2250 per week (or an extra $9000 per month) for a temporary period of time. I am an enlisted member of the U.S. military and my husband is a public school teacher. There is just no way that our family would have been able to afford this level of ABA services without help.
I strongly believe that all medical insurance plans should cover ABA Therapy. I have seen with my own eyes how incredibly beneficial ABA Therapy is for all children with autism, both the mildly impaired children and the severely impaired children, and all of those in between. And as I approach 20 years of service in the military, I must admit that I am nervous about how I will pay for ABA Therapy for 2 children after I retire. I cannot impress enough how important I believe it is for ABA Therapy to be covered for Active Duty Members, Federal Employees, and Retired Military Members alike. Please consider taking the action necessary to make this happen for your service members.
Melinda M. Burts