Two efforts aim to address autism care in Michigan

A story in the Oct. 27 edition of MiBiz looked at the 2012 state law that requires health insurers in Michigan to pay to assess, diagnose and treat children with autism.

Despite the breakthrough the law represents and the progress that has been made in the two years since the law went into effect, care providers say large bottlenecks remain in getting kids into treatment because of a lack of certified applied behavioral therapists in the state.

But two new efforts could help ease those impediments.

Western Michigan University’s Department of Psychology plans to expand its master’s degree in psychology-behavior analysis to its Royal Oak campus in suburban Detroit in 2015. The program is designed to train professionals in autism therapy and research.

WMU will expand the 36-hour program with the aid of a $4 million state grant received earlier this year to increase autism research and professional training.

The university describes the master’s program as “ideal” for somebody with an undergraduate degree in psychology or a related discipline who wants to earn certification or pursue a career working with people who have a developmental disability.

An estimated 16,000 children enrolled in public schools in Michigan have autism. As of September, there were just 248 certified behavioral analysts working in the state, less than half of whom treat autism, according to the Ann Arbor-based Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation. Those therapists who do work with autistic patients typically carry a caseload of six to 24 patients each.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Hope Network in Grand Rapids is turning to crowdfunding to raise $200,000 that will go to purchase a building nearby its Center for Autism on 36th Street in Caledonia.

Hope Network’s Center for Autism presently treats 50 children.

“Unfortunately, there’s a waiting list to get in,” reads Hope Network’s pitch for funding on, one of the largest crowdfunding sites. “We need your help in getting dozens of kids off the waiting list and into the hands of our experts.”

For every $1 raised through the campaign, a donor will provide a matching donation, doubling the total amount raised.

In an interview for the Oct. 27 story in MiBiz, Hope Network CEO Phil Weaver said the organization could serve another 30 to 60 children with autism if the organization had more staff and more physical space.

Donors to the campaign will also get a perk — a T-shirt and wristband for a $50 gift, or their name on a commemorative post for $250. For gifts of $500 or $1,000, one of the children will do an original art piece for the donors.

Naming rights for the Hope Network building will go to the person who makes a $10,000 pledge.

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