Butterfly Effects Encourages Louisiana to Rise to Another Big Challenge: Families of Children with Autism Struggle to Access Essential Services

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Families of the 2,800 children in Louisiana identified as being on the autism spectrum are struggling to find help. The state has enacted some of the best insurance mandates in the country, yet less than 60 qualified behavioral therapists are available to them. While progressive providers such as Butterfly Effects look to bridge the gap and recruit therapists to the area, a group of psychologists in Louisiana is attempting to gain control over the practice of behavioral therapists within the state and has taken its cause to the Louisiana State Senate. Fearing that new legislation now being proposed will make it even more difficult to recruit qualified behavior specialists, Butterfly Effects is imploring parents and voters to contact their senators and express their opposition to the licensure of behavior analysts by the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists as it is proposed in SB191.

A different kind of Amber Alert is sweeping across the state of Louisiana this week, as those trusted with the care of the state's children are threatening to make it much more difficult for nearly three thousand children diagnosed with autism to step out of harm's way.

Senate Bill 191, born but a few days ago, was considered and passed to the floor on Wednesday April 25th by the Health and Welfare Committee of the Louisiana state senate. Now the bill, which literally appeared overnight, is giving parents and others pause for thought, especially those concerned over the welfare of children with autism.

SB191 would establish the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP) as the state's licensing body for behavior therapy, which is the only proven and widely accepted therapeutic intervention for children on the Autism Spectrum.

(To read extensive up-to-date accounts of the bill’s current status, visit: http://butterflyeffects.com/articles/parents-and-therapists-fight-to-provide-sevices-in-louisiana.)

During the committee meeting, those speaking in opposition to the bill informed the senators that behavioral specialists do support the state licensure of behaviorists. However, they also said that it makes little sense for the LSBEP to regulate behaviorists, as the two fields are very different.

Dr. Michael Dorsey, a leading Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in Louisiana explained in his testimony that behavior analysis is practiced by people from all walks of life. He cited the examples of a regular education teacher implementing a token system in the classroom, a Sunday school teacher rewarding a child with a smiley sticker, or a teacher holding a child in from recess for misbehaving. Based on the LSBEP's interpretation, all of these individuals would be practicing psychology without a license and would therefore need to be sanctioned.

After listening to testimony, committee members noted that both sides supported the licensure of behavior analysts in Louisiana. They also said that they understood the behavior analysts’ desire to not be licensed by the LSBEP. They suggested the possibility of creating an autonomous licensing board of behavior analysts. The committee then voted to pass the bill to the senate floor with the understanding that additional amendments will be proposed.

Parents of children with autism came out to the committee meeting to express their concern that the licensing of behavior therapists is going to make it harder to find needed services. At present, there are only 56 BCBA's in the state who are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) to provide autism services to the 2800 children in the state diagnosed with autism. Considering that a minimum of 20 hours per week is considered essential to successful treatment, the demand is presently impossible to meet.

Over the years, some animosity has existed between the fields of Behavior Analysis and Psychology. Recently, psychologists have found themselves relegated to the sidelines with regard to autism treatment, as intensive behavioral intervention therapy has become the universal treatment of choice, Based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), behavior therapy is not just the best, but the only treatment regarded "objectively substantiated as effective" by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment. This recognition has been repeated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Surgeon General, and the FDA. Over the last decade, almost 30 states, including Louisiana, have concurred, mandating that private insurance carriers fund behavioral therapy for children with autism.

Three decades of research findings tells us that the earlier and more intensive the behavioral intervention, the more likely a child will develop the skills to succeed. ABA-based therapy can dramatically improve a child's speech, daily functioning, academic success, and even result in improved IQ scores, as well as curb dangerous behaviors.

Those in the field feel that If SB191 passes as written, it will become even more difficult to attract qualified behavior analysts to the state. According to Dodie Powers, who coordinates autism services throughout Louisiana, "Many local families now have insurance that covers ABA services but they have never been able to access it for lack of therapists. Putting psychologists in charge of behavior therapists won’t do anything to solve this problem, but it will raise a lot of funding/reimbursement issues." Ms. Powers is regional director for Butterfly Effects, a national provider of ABA services. "The state is in desperate need for behavioral specialists, yet recruiting good people will be impossible if we can't remove this threat to reimbursement, " says Ms. Powers. "Every state needs behavior therapists; attracting the best is highly competitive even without any additional barriers."

While the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) has only been around since 1998, it is well respected across the country and is recognized by many states and insurance companies as the de facto governing board for ABA-based therapy. To be able to attach BCBA to your name requires a master's degree in a related field, appropriate course work, ongoing supervision and education, and the passing of a licensing exam.

"In Louisiana, as well as elsewhere, parents and all voters need to let their representatives know just how they feel,” says Ms. Power who has worked both as a lawyer and social worker. " We have seen dozens of stories of how autism has personally touched the families of power brokers and celebrities and radicalized them to become advocates. Aren't we evolved and empathic enough to understand the importance of this battle without having to experience personal tragedy or do we have to wait until autism directly impacts all of us? -- as it will, if we continue to make things more difficult than necesary.”

Butterfly Effects has recently ramped up efforts to bring help into the Louisiana area, The national provider prides itself in offering comprehensive services and case coordination to battle the fragmentation that often adds another level of difficulty for those families raising a child with autism. "I’ve actually been very lucky with finding therapists and patching together services,” says Ms. Powers. We have a bit of an edge, in that we can also match children with other services including speech, physical, and occupational therapies. However, we need to encourage more therapists to make Louisiana their home. Now is the time for parents and voters to make it known that we need to remove barriers that discourage behavioral therapists from relocating to our great state." To contact Butterfly Effects, call 888-880-9270.

Find contact information for all Louisiana state senators at http://senate.la.gov/Senators/offices.asp

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