Licensing Rules Could Hurt Autistic Children
Vidonic, Bill, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Some autistic children and their families will suffer because of a state law that requires behavioral specialists to apply for a license in order for insurance to cover their treatment, a local support group said.
"Kids with autism lack the understanding to deal with a disruption or delay of services," said Luciana Randall, executive director of ABOARD'S Autism Connection of PA. "Any progress they have made is going to be interrupted, and in autism, a transition like this means the vast majority will regress behaviorally and emotionally."
Randall estimates there are 14,000 autistic children statewide served by specialists. The Pennsylvania Medicaid Policy Center estimates 21,000 children in the state are autistic.
"The intent was to raise the standards for people working with children with the autism spectrum disorder," said Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Carey Miller.
Of the 2,500 to 3,000 behavior specialists in Pennsylvania, Miller added, only 540 have applied for a license. Local agencies said some of their other specialists will qualify for the license but are still gathering the paperwork to apply for one.
The deadline is May 26. Miller couldn't say whether the state would be able or willing to extend the deadline, which the state set last summer.
Vanessa Casper-McElhaney, 39, of Aliquippa, a behavior specialist for more than 12 years, said she'll be forced to quit her job at Western PA Psych Care in Beaver because of the licensing requirements. She added she'd have to be in school full-time for 18 months to meet the criteria.
"It's pretty disheartening. You have a passion for the job, and you do care for the clients," said Casper-McElhaney.
Under the law, behavioral specialists have to be a licensed doctoral-level psychologist or a licensed clinical psychologist, or have a master's degree in related fields including special education, or a mental health degree. …