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Family Shares Embarrassing Perm Photos To Help Autistic Son

When you go to the doctor, you want the latest, greatest treatment. If you have decent insurance, you expect them to cover something that's at least pretty good.

Family Shares Embarrassing Perm Photos To Help Autistic Son

So you can imagine this mom's shock when her insurer told her that the only treatment options for her son, who has autism — treatments that had worked for him in the past — would not be covered based on scientific opinions popular in the 1970s.


Lots of children with autism benefit from applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. For some, it's the only treatment that works. But many insurers don't cover it, citing research from an era before personal computers. Or Justin Timberlake. Or disposable contact lenses.

ABA, this miracle therapy, is crazy expensive. It can cost up to $50,000 per year. (But don't let sticker shock freak you out, retronauts — DollarTimes tells us that's only $8,088.43 in 1970's dollars.)

(Apparently smocking was a thing in the '70s.)

I learned about this because of a kid named Martin. Martin is a nice kid. He re-creates OK Go videos in Lego and could tell you everything you never wanted to know about every single U.S. president. He just has a bit of trouble with social situations. Sometimes more than a bit.

When he was 4, he did some intensive ABA therapy. It taught him how to talk. It taught him how to use the toilet. It helped him do all sorts of everyday things, from putting on clothes to trick-or-treating.

Years later, he needs some more intensive treatment. Social stuff is getting more complicated as he heads toward the hormonal toxic waste dump that is middle school. In his frustration, Martin began to act out. He threw fits. He started hitting his teachers and family members. His parents decided to see if they could get him back into ABA. It worked a miracle before, and although it was once controversial, it's now accepted as best practice for many people with autism. Martin's parents are well-insured. They both work for the University of Texas at Austin.

But their insurance won't cover the therapy that worked for him in the past. Rather than trust recent studies that show ABA's effectiveness, the insurers doubt the science and reflect skeptical attitudes about ABA from the 1970s.

You remember the 1970s, right? Back when polyester was in, disco was hopping, and gas was leaded?

Martin's mom, Dr. Jennifer Graber, got super pissed off. She's been fighting for him for a long time now, and she has had enough.

The law in Texas actually requires insurers to cover ABA, but UT is exempt. The reasons are complicated, but that's how our insurance system goes. Loopholes and fine print everywhere.

And you know what? Your insurance very well might not cover ABA either. Many states don't require it. You might not find out what you don't have until you desperately need it. Or your friend does. Or your grandkid.

According to Autism Speaks, many states have tried to pass legislation to require insurers to cover ABA. But even within states, like Texas, that have passed reform legislation, loopholes allow large institutions to avoid coverage. There are also several states where efforts to pass reform measures have not succeeded and others in which no reform legislation has been brought forward. There are thousands of children with autism in the U.S. with no affordable access to ABA therapy.


It's time to exit the 1970s. Martin's mom has started a petition to hassle the folks at UT about their retrograde policies, as well as a hilarious/depressing/hilarious Facebook page where people are sharing their reasons the 1970s were, as decades go, suboptimal. You can add your own awkward '70s photos and sign their petition.

I'd like to propose a bigger action. Check out the law related to insurance coverage of autism in your state and if it stinks, write your representatives. You might not have a person with autism in your life right now, but statistically, it's only a matter of time before this hits home.

UPDATE:

Good news! After Dr. Graber's petition got a bunch of signatures, the University of Texas announced that it will begin covering ABA therapy for children with autism in fall 2015! But there are unfortunately still many children with different insurance who don't have access.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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