Facing up to the Challenge

ALL HANDS IMAGERY

1 out of every 50 children is now thought to have autism: How can Rethink help educators, families and healthcare providers face up to the challenge?

Even if you do not follow autism closely in the news, you would have been hard-pressed to miss the stories inundating the health pages of any popular news site this past week bearing witness to the staggering new statistics coming out of the CDC’s most recent report claiming that 1 in 50 kids in America are now thought to have a diagnosis of autism.  Putting aside the controversy over whether these findings are indicative of a national epidemic or simply reflective of better diagnostics, such findings are bound to make many parties nervous.

For one, there are schools.  With strict mandates put in place by No Child Left Behind and LRE legislation in the 80s and 90s, schools bear a significant portion of the burden of providing intervention services for these students insofar as an autism diagnosis affects a child’s education. Then there are health insurance companies, some of whom, in places like New York for instance (although this, too, is a complicated issue), are also required by state law to provide treatment for individuals with autism.  Finally, there are of course the parents of children diagnosed with autism who must shoulder the costs themselves of services not covered by schools or health insurance companies.  A simple internet search will produce countless stories of parents who have exhausted their savings or mortgaged their homes to fund treatment for their children.   With autism and/or its diagnosis on the rise, all of these groups have much at stake in the findings of the CDC study and the future of health care and education.

With Special Education budgets slated to be cut by 5.1% in the 2013/14 school year, health insurance companies still uncertain about the constraints and demands that will be put on them by health care reform and changing state laws, and with the entire country’s continuing uncertainty about the economy, it is easy to forget the real subject at hand in such discussions–the 1 out of every 50 children with autism who need specialized education and support.

While both health insurance companies and schools have been disparaged over the years for their failures to adequately address the needs of students with disabilities, it is important not to lose site of the fact that while such institutions must be held accountable for providing the services they are required by law to deliver, finger pointing never solved anything, and can often lead to the kind of stalemating we simply cannot afford when our children’s educations and futures are at stake.  They are only children once, after all.

It is thus imperative that health insurance companies, schools, and parents, work together to ensure that kids that are diagnosed with autism receive the care and attention they need rather than simply passing off this responsibility to the next person.

This is where Rethink can help. As a company that works with schools, health insurance companies, and parents, it is a part of Rethink’s mission to help alleviate some of this burden and to ensure that kids with autism get just that–the services and supports they deserve and are entitled to recieve under this country’s laws–budget cuts and all.

There are a few key ways we are working to ensure that the child, rather than money, remains in the foreground of such discussions:

First, we are helping to bridge the gap between home and school.  We understand that the education of a child does not end or begin at the sounding of a bell.  As any seasoned professional in the field will tell you (not to mention an abundance of research), parent involvement is critical to a child’s success. This is why the Rethink program is specifically designed to facilitate parent involvement.  Not only is our program available on a subscription basis to parents, but parents can also have access to their child’s school-based Rethink profile at no extra cost to what the school is already paying.  By being added as a team member on their child’s account, a parent can view our entire video lesson library, access all of our training videos, and see what their child is up to at school by taking a look at their current program.  By providing parents with access to and training in implementing the interventions their child is receiving at school, Rethink not only provides a continuity between home and school thus facilitating greater success in both environments, but also an alternative to otherwise costly ABA therapy by training parents how to implement these interventions at home on their own.

Relatedly, Rethink offers a platform to help coordinate multiple service providers.  Because a child with autism often receives services from providers outside of school, it is important that everyone involved in this child’s education know what interventions they are responsible for, and what interventions the child is receiving elsewhere.  In this sense, Rethink can help bridge the gap not only between home and school, but between the school and other providers, thus eliminating redundancies in services, but also the wasteful spending that occurs when providers do not communicate with one another.  By helping schools and other organizations understand what their responsibilities are to the child, Rethink can help ensure that children are not only receiving the most comprehensive program of services available to them, but one that is also streamlined and cost-effective for everyone involved.

The most dangerous attitude we can adapt in the face of such statistics as those revealed by the CDC is one of ignorance and fear.  The more we know as professionals, parents, educators, and healthcare providers about the law, but also about autism and the resources that are out there, the less likely our children are to suffer at the effects of budget cuts, healthcare reform, and economic instability.

Here at Rethink, we take great pride in our own attendance to emerging research, to legal and political issues affecting children with autism and those who care for them, and to trends in education.  We never stop advancing our program to account for these shifts.

Our capacity to be sensitive to these issues and to respond and adapt to ensuing changes is an important piece of what we bring to our partnerships with schools and other organizations.  For not only is our company distributing a product to help children with disabilities learn, but we are also offering a model for how to think of children with disabilities not in the way society has so often characterized them–as financial burdens, a drain on our resources, or a problem to be solved with a one-size-fits-all solution–but instead as a challenge we are charged with facing up to –one that calls upon our collective capacity to be adaptable, audacious, innovative, and absolutely steadfast in our commitment to helping these children achieve success.

A partnership with Rethink can, we hope, truly encourage educators, providers, and parents alike, to “Rethink” special education in light of the immense rewards of facing up to this challenge.

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