Autism Day was celebrated Saturday at Wheeling Jesuit University with an Autism Walk and the ceremonial signing of the Autism Insurance Bill by Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
More than 200 walkers made five laps around the indoor track of the Alma Grace McDonough Center to bring awareness to autism. Following the walk, Tomblin addressed the walkers and used numerous pens to sign the document which he officially signed into law on Friday.
Kathy Shapell, executive director of the Augusta Levy Learning Center in Wheeling, which treats autistic children, said, "It's a great day in West Virginia. This will have a big impact.
"This (insurance bill) will help thousands of children get the help they need," she added.
In addition, she said 90 percent of children with autism who receive early intervention and treatment can be helped and 50 percent of those children will be able to become indistinguishable from their peers and not need services again.
There is no greater gift to any family than to have their children healthy and happy. It’s the goal we all share as parents and grandparents. The First Lady and I feel this way about our son, and I know parents across our beautiful state feel the same way about their children. It is because of their love and commitment to ensuring that their children not only receive the best possible care but also receive the specialized care that they need that I am proud to I have signed HB 2693. This bill requires insurance companies to offer autism related insurance coverage for families.
Among the hundreds of pieces of legislation that passed and that I signed into law this year, this bill truly puts the needs of our young, vulnerable West Virginians first. With my signature, West Virginia is now the 25th state to require autism related services covered by insurance for qualifying families. This has been a long five-year journey in the making.
During the 2011 Legislative Session, I received several dozen letters from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents of children with autism. These letters tugged on my heart with statements such as:
“My two year old son is smart, funny, and the light of our lives. He can be a fully functioning member of society if he is given the therapy that he so desperately needs.”
“My son has been paying thousands of dollars for ABA therapy out of his pocket each year. This family is not rich but my grandson needs all the help he can get. Since he has been having this therapy, he can communicate, play with other children and is learning to read.”
“My son is a different person since starting ABA therapy. Although we can only afford to pay for six hours a week, these children need 40 hours a week. With your help in signing the bill, we can finally give him the therapy he needs to be able to function in our world.”
“We struggle every day financially, emotionally and physically trying to provide his much needed treatment because insurance companies are being allowed to discriminate against our child based on his disability.”
These are just some of the heartfelt letters I have read over the past few months. I feel these families’ pain and am happy to be a part of improving their lives. I want to thank all of the families who wrote to me and shared their touching, personal stories. I am so pleased to say that insurance coverage for autism related services is now a reality. It is my hope that this legislation will bring opportunities for a better life to our children with autism and their families who strive to provide the best lives for them each and every day.