"The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act provides state funds so children with special needs can attend private schools with services tailored to those kids," The Oklahoman pointed out yesterday.
Unlike an autism mandate, that program benefits nearly all affected families.
In Oklahoma City, the scholarship program has allowed the creation of the Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, which provides intensive intervention based on Applied Behavior Analysis. Many children with autism attend the school. It serves students ranging from 2-year-olds to those in the eighth grade.
That approach provides more services for a longer period of time to more children than do many state autism mandates. Some states’ autism mandates apply only to young children; many have benefit limits that can be less than the cost of treatment. A 2012 MedClaims Liaison and Autism Speaks survey found more than half of families affected by autism in states with autism mandates complained that their providers didn’t accept their insurance, and most described their autism coverage as “poor” or “unacceptable.”
By and large, autism mandates offer more hype than substance to desperate families. In contrast, the Henry scholarship program has been life-changing for many children with special needs. Policymakers should build upon that success, not divert their focus to less-effective alternatives.