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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2005

Autism Taskforce suggests diagnosis, treatment improvements

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

After almost a year of public forums and gathering information, Ohio's Autism Taskforce has released an ambitious set of 43 recommendations aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment of autism, the fastest growing developmental disability in the country.

Among the recommendations: legislation forbidding health insurance companies from excluding coverage for those with autism, a regional system for delivering services, a public education campaign, and, not unexpectedly, more state funding for autism.

"I couldn't be more pleased. I have looked at other reports from around the country, and I don't see anything that's even close to ours," said task force chairman Jon Peterson, a Republican state representative from Delaware.

Mr. Peterson, who has an autistic daughter, said the challenge now is to make sure the report does not sit on a shelf gathering dust, but instead is acted upon by state legislators and other state officials.

Inaction "is a huge concern," Mr. Peterson said.

"The work ahead is just as difficult as what we've been through. We can't lose the momentum."

Autism is a brain disorder that interferes with how people understand and communicate.

Many states and the federal government are paying more attention to autism and its related disorders because the conditions, which can be expensive to treat, are, for reasons that are yet unclear, rapidly increasing in prevalence.

Reliable estimates are hard to come by, but state officials estimate as many as 1 in 250 Ohio children is born with the disability.

Including adults, some autism experts have estimated as many as 1 in 166 people might have autism, meaning nearly 70,000 Ohioans and possibly an equal number of Michigan residents could have the disorder.

The task force report helps the public and legislature "recognize autism for the epidemic that it is," said Toledo Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli, a task force member and a parent of an autistic son.

Mr. Peterson said many of the report's recommendations face an uphill battle, especially those calling for an increase in state funding for the treatment of autism.



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