A state law requiring health insurance plans to cover autism therapy goes into effect in July, but it could take years before its benefits are fully realized.
Mississippi has only a few dozen people certified in applied behavior analysis, or ABA. Considered the holy grail of autism therapy, ABA can diminish or reverse symptoms associated with the disorder but costs parents as much as $200 per hour out of pocket.
A minimum 20 hours a week of ABA is recommended. But with an estimated 10,000 children in Mississippi with autism, which causes mild to severe problems in communication and socialization, those scant ABA therapists can’t meet the demand.
“We could easily quadruple our staff and not meet the demand,” said John Damon, CEO of Mississippi Children’s Home Services.
The University of Southern Mississippi plans this fall to offer a master’s level Applied Behavior Analysis-emphasized curriculum in the school of education and psychology, said assistant professor Jim Moore.
Moore said interest is high in ABA but limited funding may allow only a few students into the program. With autism rates on the rise — the disorder affects one in 68 children now — Mississippi needs more therapists.