Military families fear cuts to Autism therapy

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Families of 23,000 military children with Autism fear treatment could be cut after next week.

One military mom contacted Hawaii News Now because she's concerned about losing services for her son.

5-year old Gabe Lee's ease doing exercises with his therapist, despite the presence of a news camera is a testament to his Autism treatment.

According to his mom Kristina, "He's a different boy. He would have just been doing his own thing. Tunnel vision into it."

She fears changes by Tricare, the military's health care program, will threaten his progress. Change always poses challenges for treatment, especially for military families dealing with deployments.

For Gabe, this chatterbox clammed up when his dad deployed. "When my husband returned from deployment" explains Lee "on the pier, he ran up and Daddy I missed you. He just talked a mile a minute."

Gabe starts a new school next week, the same time changes kick in for Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA therapy.

Starting July 25th, there will be standardized testing every six months. If benchmarks aren't met, services can be cut.

Another change? Waivers are needed every year to get ABA treatment longer than 2 years or past age 16.

Autism Speaks has expressed concerns because the testing that will be used was intended for diagnosis and there's a shortage of people qualified to administer these tests. That could make qualifying for ABA treatment tougher for families.

In addition, Lee says, "You can't categorize all these children that are all over the spectrum in the same box. If a kiddo doesn't fit into the box, that kid can be cut from services or if they do well and meet benchmarks, they can just like oh they don't need it anymore they're doing fine."

Lee is looking into joining a class action lawsuit to protect her son's sessions.

She says, "I would fight for him for anything. Hopefully they'll see with enough parents and providers speaking out, that this is wrong."

Tricare touts the changes as an expansion of Autism treatment to retired military previously not covered. But frustrated families say the changes will make it harder to get needed therapy for their children. 

Some demonstrations have been planned nationwide for this Sunday.

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