Innovation, Policy Outlook for Autism

by David Gorn

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A Senate select committee last week held a hearing in Santa Ana to examine a successful public-private autism research and treatment partnership in Orange County, and to see what legislation might be needed for autism care in the next year.

Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders and chaired the Santa Ana hearing.

"We truly have an epidemic on our hands," Correa said.

One part of the solution is the autism work that's been done within the public Children and Families Commission of Orange County and the private not-for-profit Thompson Center for Autism, Correa said.

"What is presented here today, and your subsequent actions, have the potential to bear on millions of children's lives across our country," said Ralph Clayman, dean of the UC-Irvine School of Medicine. "Today's hearing is not just about the need for more autism research and treatment, but rather how the unique environment in Orange County has already enabled progress."

The public effort to form the commission and the resources added by the private, not-for-profit Thompson Center have helped many autistic children in Orange County, Clayman said. He hopes the model can be duplicated elsewhere.

"It is our fervent hope that, in the years to come, people will look back upon this day and see, not a report on autism's status quo, but rather a moment in time when a small group of determined individuals ignited an endeavor to end autism with an idea that then grew and brought forth a realization that today is but a dream for so many families," Clayman said.

When Correa asked Clayman how best to support that model legislatively, Clayman proposed a slightly different idea:

 "I would envision something in Southern California similar to the MIND Institute that you have in Northern California," he said. The MIND Institute -- for Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders -- is a research facility based at UC-Davis.

"A similar facility here with similar resources would be monumental," Clayman said. "That would be phenomenal."

Correa was open to the idea, but also added that other important autism legislation will be on the table next year.

"We had a good year, legislatively. We got a few bills passed and signed by the governor. These bills, in my opinion, will make life better for the families of children with autism," Correa said. "We had small victories here and there, but there is just so much left to be done."

Primary on Correa's to-fight-for list is coverage of applied behavior analysis -- known as ABA therapy -- for autistic children in Medi-Cal.

"One of the sad chapters in [last year's] budget wars was when Healthy Families was merged into Medi-Cal and the funding that used to be contained in Healthy Families for the treatment of autistic children disappeared," Correa said.  

That was a bitter budget pill to swallow, he said.

"That was something a lot of us are not happy about, and actually are really angry over," Correa said. "I hope this year in the Legislature we can remedy this situation."


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