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Autism Bill Gets New Name, Passes Senate Floor

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–Officially named the Riley Ward Act by an amendment written by Rep. Slade Blackwell (R-Birmingham), the autism bill (Senate Bill 283) passed the Senate Floor Tuesday with a vote of 32-0. Blackwell stated that he and other senators wanted the name to be in honor of the work done on behalf of the bill by Rep. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), the bill’s sponsor, and his wife Julie Ward, Riley Ward is their daughter. “You honor my family by doing that,” Ward told senators. He also thanked senators for their hard work on the bill as well as Bama Hager, Policy Advisor to The Autism Council of Alabama and the many parents who had helped by staging rallies and contacting their state legislators.

“I am so proud of my colleagues for their votes on this bill. This is something I have worked tirelessly on for many years,” Ward said. “If this legislation will allow just one child to gain improved skills from this affliction, it will stand among my proudest accomplishments not just in elected office, but of my entire life.”

This bill will make available additional therapy services to children on the Autism Spectrum. Applied Behavioral Therapy and an increase in speech and occupational therapy will be available as a health insurance option plan to business with employees who need this additional coverage. Only those business will see any increase in health care costs. “You will have more therapy available now than we have ever had in Alabama,” said Ward.

Applied Behavioral Analyst (ABA) therapy provides additional speech and occupational therapies in training life skills. According to Wikipedia, ABA is:

“a science that involves using modern behavioral learning theory to modify behaviors. Behavior analysts reject the use of hypothetical constructs[1] and focus on the observable relationship of behavior to the environment. By functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment, the methods of ABA can be used to change that behavior. Research in applied behavior analysis ranges from behavioral intervention methods to basic research which investigates the rules by which humans adapt and maintain behavior.”

“That was very important to the autism community and that is one of the biggest reasons why the Autism Society of Alabama endorsed the bill,” said Ward.

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“Families of individuals with autism work hard to provide for their loved ones – to provide opportunities for growth and learning,” Anna McConnell, State Autism Coordinator said. “Expanded insurance coverage can help ease the financial stresses that these families face every day.”

The bill originally asked for a mandate for all Alabama health care participants. In the bill’s most recent iteration, a comprise was made that only companies and their employees that elect to provide this option will participate. “There was no way that we were going to get a fully mandated healthcare package through here. The votes weren’t there  but we did have the votes to increase services and that is what we did today,” said Ward.

The bill will now move to the House for committee consideration.

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