by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton not only accepted the autism awareness blue lantern Tuesday, April 2, but waved it.
Kammy Kramer, an Eagan mother with two autistic children, was delighted.
“It was absolutely beyond imagination, wonderful,” Kramer said of Dayton backing legislation mandating private insurance coverage for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Dayton’s support came on blue-themed World Autism Day, April 2, and at the start of autism awareness month.
According to the administration, one in 110 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism. Dayton has autistic nephew and knows how the diagnosis impacted his sister, he said.
“I don’t think anyone knows before their children are born what medical treatment they’ll need,” he said of health insurance coverage.
In her emotional comments at a Capitol press conference, Kramer, an autism awareness activist, recalled leaving the doctor’s office a decade ago having learned her young son Elliott was autistic.
“I will never forget that day,” she said. Kramer’s youngest child, daughter Ada, is also autistic.
Although expressing thanks for an early diagnosis and a chance for intensive therapy for her two autistic children, Kramer spoke, too, of difficulties.
For a time, her family lost insurance coverage, she said. She spoke of strained marriage relationships, effects on siblings and the life-alternating changes autism brings to families.
In addition to backing the insurance mandate legislation, carried in the Senate by Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, Dayton also urged federal officials in a letter to include coverage for intensive services for children with autism in the essential health benefit category under the Affordable Care Act, including standards relating to health insurance exchanges.
The benefit set should include speech and language therapy, physical and occupational therapy, other benefits. Advocates maintain requiring private insurers to cover children with autism spectrum disorders only means extending coverage to about 600 children in Minnesota at this time.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota did not immediately respond for comment.
Dayton, in his proposed state budget, establishes an intensive early treatment program in Medicaid for autistic children.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an overall term for a group of brain disorders. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of impairment children with ASD can have, the institute notes.
ASD symptoms vary from mild to severe. They’re pervasive and not something children outgrow.
“You’re always going to be wired a little differently,” Kramer said. “As I tell my kids, it’s a different way of thinking.”
Kramer views early treatment not only essential but effective.
“It works,” she said.
Eaton, a nurse, has worked professionally with people with autism for years.
“We just didn’t know what it was 20 years ago,” she said.
Eaton spoke of withdrawal, an unwillingness or inability to communicate and avoidance of eye-to-eye contact as common symptoms of autism.
Like Dayton, Eaton has an autistic nephew. But the nephew attends college and his symptoms are largely undetectable, Eaton said.
Eaton was eager to carry the autism legislation, she said.
T.W. Budig can be reached at [email protected]