Anna Clark at Michigan Health Watch:
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, affirming that all people have the right to participate in civil society. But that’s especially difficult in the era of coronavirus and social distancing. In addition to thwarted school and caregiving, it’s more difficult for children and teens with autism to access therapeutic services or even get a diagnosis. Also, because sensory issues make it hard to wear a mask, it’s tough for families to leave the home.
“This is the busiest I can ever remember being,” said Colleen Allen, president and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan. The Alliance, which offers a free navigator program that answers questions and connects resources, ordinarily receives up to 2,000 calls a year. This year, it expects many more, especially for complex cases that involve crisis and safety.“I think it is going to get much worse before it gets much better,” she added.
The COVID cataclysm challenged a statewide network of autism services that already had gaps, leading to long waiting lists for diagnoses and programs.
It’s been less than a decade since private and public health insurers have been required to cover people with autism. Early on, there weren’t nearly enough providers to meet the need. This has improved somewhat in the years since, as, for example, colleges launched training programs.
But access still depends on geography. Care is far more available in southeast Michigan than the Upper Peninsula. There are also service gaps, including a lack of support for psychiatric crises. And in a city like Detroit, many families entitled to services backed by Medicaid have no idea it’s available. “They’re not getting there,” Allen said about outreach efforts.
This year changed care in ways that nobody could have predicted. Henry Ford Health System offered ABA and integrated speech therapy at three Detroit-area centers, and comprehensive in-person evaluations at the Henry Ford Autism Center in Hamtramck.
“With the COVID, everything came to a blinding halt,” said Dr. Tisa Johnson, medical director of Henry Ford’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.