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Hixson, Robson honored for their autism advocacy

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Stacy Vogel
September 10, 2009

Rose Helms didn't know how to reach her son when he was a toddler.


"He didn't understand us, and we didn't know how to help him understand us," the Evansville woman said.


Insurance wouldn't pay for speech therapy for her autistic son, Michael. It took about two years to get in-home therapy for Michael because he couldn't communicate with the therapists, she said.


It's too late for Michael, now 14, to get early speech therapy, but Helms is happy for the families that will benefit from legislation requiring insurance companies to cover autism treatment.


She's also happy that Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, and Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, are being honored for their work on the bill, she said.


"This has been something long overdue," she said about the legislation.


Robson and Hixson will receive outstanding advocate awards in October from Easter Seals, a national advocacy group for people with disabilities. They're two of nine legislators—six state and three federal—to win the award this year.


Hixson and Robson sponsored legislation requiring insurance companies to cover autism treatment for children. The legislation was included in the 2009-11 state budget.


Before, most private insurance companies refused to cover autism treatment. Families that couldn't pay applied for state waivers, but the waiting list could stretch to more than a year.


"What we know at Easter Seals is, particularly for children with autism, but really anyone with autism, is getting therapy and support consistently and early makes all the difference," said Jennifer Dexter, assistant vice president, government relations.


The legislators plan to go to Washington, D.C., to accept their awards in person.


"To have two representatives in one state getting (the award) I think really says a lot about how progressive and how thoughtful (the state is)," she said.


Robson is part of a task force hammering out the rules to govern the mandate. The group hopes to be done by October so the legislation can take effect in January.


Hixson said he's humbled by the recognition.


"I don't feel like I've done a whole lot really for disabled people, really, when you think about all the people who take care of someone in their family who's disabled," he said. "To me, those are the people that really deserve awards."



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