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Parents of autistic children struggle to pay for therapy

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Wayne Rohde has paid $3,000 a month for his autistic son, Nick’s, therapy. “We’ve sold off almost everything we have just to get him to sit in my lap and look at me,” Wayne Rohde, said. Wayne Rohde has paid $3,000 a month for his autistic son, Nick’s, therapy. “We’ve sold off almost everything we have just to get him to sit in my lap and look at me,” Wayne Rohde, said.
Nick Rohde, 10, is autistic. He received the diagnosis at age three. Nick Rohde, 10, is autistic. He received the diagnosis at age three.

By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9

Nick Rohde is autistic.

He received the diagnosis at 3. Now he's 10. For the last several years, his parents have paid $3,000 a month for his therapy.

"We've sold off almost everything we have just to get him to sit in my lap and look at me," his dad, Wayne Rohde, said.

They've been denied coverage from their insurance company because Nick's behavioral therapy is deemed "experimental."

As the number of children diagnosed increases, more Oklahoma parents are faced with the struggle of paying for treatments.

Many health insurance companies specifically exclude therapies for autistic kids, even if those same therapies would be covered under a different diagnosis, said Anne Roberts of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

"So you have parents pleading with their doctors ‘I don't care what you call it, but don't call it Autism,'" Roberts said. "Because it it's called something else, I can get the therapies for my child."

A group of parents, backed by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, are taking their stories to legislators. The proposed bill is called "Nick's Law" -- requiring private health insurers to include coverage of expenses for the treatment of autism. A condition that affects the ability to communicate.

"These kids are still going to grow up to be adults, and either can be a burden on society or can get early intensive treatment and therapies with a chance of being productive and learning to communicate," Roberts said.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) has agreed to sponsor "Nick's law" in the 2008 legislative session.

Other states already have similar legislation.

Mandating the coverage would increase private insurance premiums anywhere from 44 cents per month, to four dollars and ten cents per month, according to the Institute for Child Advocacy.

Wayne Rohde said he thinks it's a low price for everyone to pay, especially when you consider the number of families with autistic children who've already turned to the state, and taxpayers, for help

"When we put this together it wasn't just about our family," he said. "It's about children across Oklahoma."

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