Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) says that over the course of a lifetime, early diagnosis and intervention in autism can save the state more than $200,000 in special-education costs, and millions more over the lifetime of someone who suffers from the disorder. That's because intervening early -- before the neural pathways of a child's brain have fully formed -- can disrupt much of the asocial behavior of a child with autism.
Six-year-old Mhina Richardson of Juneau would seem to be living proof of the benefits of early intervention. A year and a half ago, she was diagnosed with autism. Her mother, Beth, took her to therapists. Today, to an outsider, she looks and acts like any healthy, happy 6-year-old. Her mom can still tell that Mhina has challenges, but she also insists the early intervention made a big difference.
"She's doing really well now," Beth Richardson said.
On Friday, Beth, Mhina and perhaps a dozen other people toured the state Capitol handing out gumballs to lawmakers. Their point was that for the price of those gumballs, every child in our state can be insured for autism treatment.
They are urging that lawmakers hold hearings on Senate Bill 74, and their requests have finally been heard. The House Health and Social Sciences Committee announced Friday that it would hold hearings on the measure within the next 10 days.