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Limited Spaces Available for Utah Autism Treatment Program

A children’s autism treatment program is accepting new applicants. The Utah Department of Health’s Medicaid Autism Waiver program is open for enrollment. There are 35 openings.

The waiver program provides intensive behavioral treatment for children ages two through six, who are clinically diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since the waiver began, more than 300 children statewide have received treatment.  Jandee Mortensen Jones’ 5-year-old son has been in the program for a year, enabling her to afford therapy 15 hours per week in her home.  Without the waiver program, she says the cost would be equivalent to her mortgage.

“We’ve seen big progress in just him being able to be more regulated, not having as many outbursts, and then just learning a lot of language skills,” Jones says. “I mean for him to make the cognitive gains that he’s made would not have been possible without that one-on-one intervention.”

Jones is pleased to know that her son can continue the program for another year. The waiver was originally funded as a two-year pilot project, but state Representative Ronda Rudd Menlove ran a bill making it an ongoing program during this year’s legislative session. Jon Owen, President of the Utah Autism Coalition, says the continuity is important for families.

“Do you really want to do something that’s only going to last six months, and will it be renewed next year? You don’t really know,” Owen says. “But the fact that Representative Menlove got this passed into law is very good, and people can rely on that at least some.”

The numbers served by this program are limited, however. Owen himself did not get selected in the waiver lottery, so he has been paying for his son’s behavioral therapy out of his own pocket. But Owen is looking forward to 2016, when insurance coverage for children’s autism will be mandated in Utah.

“The future looks pretty bright right now,”  Owen says. Lawmakers passed a bill in the latest legislative session that requires all state-regulated insurance plans to cover the treatment of autism spectrum disorder for children ages 2 to 9 years old.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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