DOVER - Two months after a new state law took effect requiring most insurance companies to cover autism treatment, nobody has entered the early intervention program at Lakeview Specialty Hospital & Rehab.
Though there's a waiting list for the services, the classroom sits empty, except for a stack of mats, games, fitness balls and other supplies. Insurers are still sorting through the new rules, and parents of children with forms of autism may not know the program is available, administrators said.
"The folks who do know about us associate us with residential care," clinical liaison Pat Patrick said.
The facility at 1701 Sharp Road, perhaps best known as a hospital and residential facility for those with brain injuries, also has a program for school-age kids with autism. Through the Lakeview Early Autism Program, which opened last fall, staff will teach children ages 3 to 9 how to build social and communication skills and prepare them for inclusive classrooms, behavior analyst Kim Jurowski said.
The therapy in Lakeview's early intervention program will be done on-site, making it one of only a handful of such centers in the state. In the past, most Wisconsin parents with autistic children had to pay for treatment out-of-pocket or rely on a special Medicaid waiver which only covered in-home therapy.
According to the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, the new rules don't specify where the treatment must take place. Though research has been used to stress the benefits of in-home autism sessions, Jurowski said the success is more tied to the amount of parental involvement in the therapy and at what age it's given.
Research suggests children with autism benefit greatly from therapy early in life, providers and parents agree. A study published last month indicated toddlers who get help before turning 30 months old increased their IQ by 18 points within two years.
"Those are the kids that are most likely to be indistinguishable from their peers when they get to grade school," Jurowski said.
About 210 families in Wisconsin remain on a waiting list for therapy, according to Seth Boffeli, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services. That number has dwindled from its peak, when some families waited up to two years, said Nissan Bar-Lev, president of the Autism Society of Wisconsin. By the end of the year, the wait could be eliminated, he said.
Bar-Lev suggested parents contact their insurance companies to find out which therapy providers they'll cover under the new state rules rather than trying to slog through the information themselves.
"God knows they have their hands full working with kids with autism," he said. "They don't need to find the providers."