Print Katie Vollmuth, M.D.

With the number of children diagnosed with autism continuing to rise (currently 1 out of every 68 children), a new law in Nebraska could not come at a better time.

On April 21 Governor Dave Heineman signed a bill into law (LB254) that will help children and families living with autism. With the new law, treatment of autism will finally be covered for all children up to the age of 21 and includes 25 hours of therapy covered per week. Certain insurance companies will be exempt from this law, mostly individual and small-group markets.

Nebraska is now the 36th state to require coverage for these services.

Autism sure seems to make the news a lot but there may not be the greatest understanding of what autism truly is. It is a neurobehavioral disorder with very specific symptoms and criteria that must be met in order to receive the diagnosis.

One criterion is that a child must display deficits in social communication and social interaction. Examples of symptoms include: poor eye contact, little interest in interactions with peers or making friends, lack of empathy, difficulty understanding nonverbal communication.

The second criterion involves having restrictive or repetitive patterns of behavior. This may be hand flapping, rocking, toe walking, insistence on routine, persistent preoccupation with specific things like calendars, license plates, or phone numbers and finally unusual sensory perceptions such as diet restrictions due to food textures, resistance to being touched and preoccupation with spinning objects. Of course these are just a few examples and all children can display a wide variety of symptoms.

The diagnosis of autism has recently changed with the implementation of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). This is a manual used by providers to determine what criteria must be met in order to receive a certain psychological diagnosis. With this change a few diagnoses have been eliminated including Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. All patients are now given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with varying degrees of severity.

Diagnosis usually begins with the primary care provider. Certain screening tools are used during well visits to identify those children who display certain behaviors. If a parent or provider is concerned then the evaluation usually continues with the help of a specialist who will help by completing a very thorough medical, developmental and family history as well as observations of the child. Further testing may be done including genetic and metabolic tests, brain imaging, and electroencephalogram (EEG).

The new law in Nebraska is so important because the treatment of autism is very intense.

The treatment includes behavioral and educational therapy and for some medical therapy. Both the behavioral and educational therapy are specifically designed to each child’s needs to help improve their social functioning, communication skills, negative behaviors and promote education and life skills.

Continuing to acknowledge the needs of autistic children and the needs of their families is how we are going to truly achieve the greatest outcomes in children with autism.

As a parent always remember that you know your child best. If you suspect something is wrong or their activity matches some of the descriptions I mentioned earlier don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician.

Dr. Katie Vollmuth is a pediatrician with Alegent Creighton Clinic in Gretna. She blogs a few times each month on BlogAlegent.com and momaha.com.



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