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Potential state budget cuts could impact families dealing with autism

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Money for services to support autistic individuals could be drastically cut in Michigan after the proposed budget reduces funding.

The House of Representatives approved the $39.9 billion General Omnibus Budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 in a 66-41 vote Tuesday.

The fiscal year plan by the House includes cutting $40 million Medicaid funded autism services across the state. This is on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest report, stating one in 59 children are affected by autism spectrum disorder.

“The prevalence rate is increasing so much that more and more people are going to be affected,” Autism Support of Kent County Executive Director Pam Liggett said. “Each year [Autism Support of Kent County] talk to about 300 new families who are looking for resources. So that obviously just shows the need.”

The Michigan Senate will soon vote on its own budget before joining the House to create a finalized plan and a vote is expected by this fall.

The House a approved a second plan, a $16.9 billion education budget, with a 71-36 vote.

“When or if the budget is cut, that would affect the number of individuals, we believe, that would have access to that service or they would have the amount of therapy capped,” said Liggett.

Liggett mentioned many Michigan families dealing with autism pay for services and program through Medicaid, which includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.

She explained what ABA therapy does for children with autism.

“From improving communication, to improving safety, to preventing them from harming themselves.” Liggett said, “The effects of ABA therapy are really so great that to have anything minimize that would really be unfortunate for those kids, those young adults getting that therapy and for those families whose lives can be changed through that.”

Liggett said the Developmental Enhancement Behavior Health Services Center in Wyoming, offers ABA. She recalled one of many success stories of the therapy.

“One mom I know, her son is on verbal, but he was able through ABA therapy to learn how to communicate with an iPad device. And to be able to tell his mom that his tummy hurts is really important to that family,” said Liggett.

Liggett said she hopes legislators will take a family’s need for services and funding into consideration before finalizing a budget plan. She also hopes more people will speak up to create awareness about the condition and just how many people it impacts.

“Showing that there's just a greater need every single day for services and opportunities for people with autism to get proper treatments, to get proper therapy to again live their best life, be the most productive and healthy person that they can be,” said Liggett.

Autism Support of Kent County is hosting its annual “Walk For Autism” event Sunday, May 6. It starts at noon and will be held at the John Ball Zoo. Liggett said they’re expecting to see about 600 people.

She explained, “I think the work that we do, bringing people together, bringing awareness, giving them support and knowledge is really important because there's not a lot of places to turn.”

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