The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Joplin Metro

June 23, 2008

Lieutenant governor signs bill creating state autism commission

By Joe Hadsall

A statewide commission on autism spectrum disorders will be assembled and, by July 1 of next year, will produce a plan for Missouri to offer treatment, training and other services.

Trisha Buerge, of Joplin, said she appreciated hearing the news. She is the mother of Jaxon, a 5-year-old autistic child who receives treatment from the Ozark Center for Autism.

“I think it’s important for the commission to provide information to the Legislature,” Buerge said. “They should know what autistic kids need to grow into successful adults.”

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder visited the Ozark Center for Autism in Joplin on Monday and signed Senate Bill 768, which calls for the commission’s creation. The commission will be made up of representatives from the General Assembly, health-related state agencies and autism-related organizations, and parents. Kinder was filling in for Gov. Matt Blunt, who is out of state.

The bill also creates the Office of Autism Services within the Department of Mental Health.

Paula Baker, chief executive of the Ozark Center, said one of every 150 children today is diagnosed with some form of autism.

The state has spent more than $15.3 million in new money on autism over the past two years. The Ozark Center on Autism was created as a result of that funding.

Tysha Van Becelaere, of Pittsburg, Kan., said her son, Xander, has benefited from the center.

“The school district wasn’t able to provide enough of the speech therapy that he needed,” Van Becelaere said. “We tried to supplement that cost with insurance, but we were denied.”

Children at the center receive applied behavioral analysis, an intensive form of one-on-one training. But the treatment is expensive: A year of treatment at the center costs about $72,000.

Baker said the center offers a sliding scale to parents based on their income. Other costs are paid for by state allocations and private gifts. But it is enough for only 13 children to be admitted into the program this year, she said.

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