Editorial: Let’s stop putting the squeeze on low-income autistic kids

The Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

Last week, Autism Parenting Magazine compiled a list of states most supportive for raising a child with autism. Illinois wasn’t on it. That’s no surprise.

The top 10 best states for families dealing with autism: Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Montana. Illinois didn’t make the “worst” list, but advocates for the disabled have long complained about waiting lists and barriers to care here.

The state’s fiscal condition — and the squeeze of out-of-control pension costs, a bill backlog and debt payments on borrowing costs — means the state’s most vulnerable often are the last to get the services they deserve. All the mandatory costs of state government come first. And despite court orders mandating better care for Illinoisans with disabilities, the state continues to rank near the bottom nationally.

But there’s a bill in Springfield that could help offset some our much-deserved bad rap. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Elmhurst, would expand eligibility for kids and families on Medicaid to receive what’s called applied behavior analysis, a therapy that has shown promise with kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The General Assembly should pass it.

Currently, state law mandates that private insurers pay for ABA therapy for autistic kids. But the Medicaid portion is overly restrictive on who qualifies as a therapy provider, limiting the reach of therapy for low-income families. The bill would fix that, opening up more opportunities for children to receive a type of intervention that has shown some success.

The bill is sitting in the House Rules Committee. It should be law by now. Advocates say money was appropriated to pay for the therapy under Medicaid; fixing the definition of who can provide it will solve at least one problem.


Editorials reflect the views of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. The board operates independently of the newsroom.


The other problem, of course, is paying for the program long-term in a state with a long-term fiscal illness. But it’s less expensive to make progress with autistic kids in their crucial formative years than to pay for more intensive care down the road or in community group homes. And it’s the right thing to do.

In a letter to the editor last fall, a mom struggling with an autistic child explained her disgust at politicians asking for more money through Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated tax amendment.

“There are approximately 19,500 people on the waiting list for state aid and/or services, yet there are no clear plans to solve this problem. That’s why my family and I are planning our move to Wisconsin.

“State leaders are failing our most vulnerable. Yet they want us to trust them, that — with this tax hike — they will finally do right. Illinois already has one of the highest tax burdens in the country and still fails to provide legitimate, easy-access services that people with disabilities need.”

We all know Illinois is in bad shape financially. But government’s primary role is to help the most vulnerable. Autistic children should be first in line.

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