The END of Autism Awareness

Are you one of those people who feel a twinge of sympathy when you read/hear about a story on the news about mentally handicapped children? I know I am. I’m constantly seeing commercials on late-night television about the miracles being performed on kids born with some form of genetic trait, struggling to handle a spoon in their cereal. I read about celebrities in gossip magazines… well, I hear about people reading gossip magazines filled with stories about this or that charity supporting people with disabilities. Cancer-research, Leukemia, Down’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy, etc., the list could go on forever.

The point I’m trying to get at is wouldn’t it make you extremely mad to know that people in your own country are trying to cheat the people who teach these handicapped children how to read, write, eat, put on clothes and even just communicate with their parents?

Well that’s exactly what’s going on now. At this very moment, a large majority of the insurance companies supposed to pay for these extremely specialized special-needs teachers are doing exactly the opposite. They take your insurance premiums and are happy to do so, but when it comes time to pay the teachers, they are making up dozens of excuses or reasons why they shouldn’t have to pay them. Does that sound fair?  It’s not like this is the easiest job in the world. Trust me, you and I are not as patient, kind, caring, understanding, constantly frustrated and under-valued as these people are. How do I know this? Maybe your asking yourself, in what way is this author qualified to speak on the subject?

To put it bluntly, my fiancée is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (ABA therapist). Her name is Joyce, and she is currently one of the foremost experts on children with learning disorders. She has lived and worked in the Maryland/Virginia area( GO DMV!) for basically her entire life, and above all else, gets barely any credit at all for doing a tremendous service to humanity.

If you’re imagining an overweight, middle-aged, primary-school special-ed teacher, you’re not even close to getting it right. She has multiple degree’s in psychology, sociology, child psychology, as well as master’s degrees specializing in behavioral science/early mental development. She was the dorky asian girl in the front of the classroom with straight A’s and a too-big pair of glasses, destined for scientific research. She has published countless papers, has apprenticed dozens of other board-certified therapists, and generally speaking, is the first person I would EVER think of calling if my kid had a learning disability.

She is also being ripped off, so to speak. The worst thing about this whole situation is that this isn’t just some random third-rate insurance company we’re talking about here. She works as an independent contractor for TriCare, aka: the Insurance company that provides for most members of the US Military. We’re talking every branch of the US Armed Services. These are the men and women of our country that are out there everyday, protecting our country from threats both domestic and foreign. Think about it, these brave soldiers and their loyal families will soon be unable to find anyone to take care of their mentally handicapped children.

They wont find anybody because of the hush-hush, recently-adopted policy of TriCare to continually refuse payment to special-needs therapists/educators. This is how it usually works: A potential client with some form of insurance looks online or gets a referral to her by other means. This family calls Joyce and asks if she has any time slot available to help their child/children. Depending on whether or not their insurance covers special-needs education/learning disabilities education, they either have to pay a small co-pay, just like going to the dentist/doctor, or completely out-of-pocket. The cost of these sessions can cost between 100-300 dollars an hour or more, depending on their reputation, experience and level of education or certification.

Depending on the child’s ability to learn, most of these teachers insist on between 5-10 hours a week at minimum. Ask yourself, how many people do you know that can afford to pay that amount of money on their own? Without the help of a “respectable” insurance company, very few people can afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a week on top of their other necessary bills. Children with developmental disabilities CANNOT be cured, regardless of any drugs, surgery or any other modern forms of medicine. The only treatment with proven empirical results is Applied Behavior Analysis, otherwise known as Behavior Therapy.

If insurance companies such as TriCare, United Healthcare and Cigna refuse to pay for ABA therapy, claiming it isn’t a medical necessity, these children with developmental disabilities have a 0% chance of becoming a fully functional individual, capable of independent-living. The goal of all behavioral analysts is to integrate their patients into society, improving the quality of life for their families and teaching them critical life skills. In return for all this hard-work, TriCare has chosen instead to cancel ALL BCaBA(Bachelor-level Behavior Analysts). They have not cut out all BCBA(Master-level Behavior Analysts) work-compensation yet, but they have already begun to delay, deny, or refuse their weekly payments.

For the past 6 months, TriCare has accepted and verified Joyce’s weekly sessions, authorizing her claims and yet refused to pay her out except in the most minimal increments. Their claim is that they have to do “further research” on what is ABA therapy, choosing instead to have them starve, or suffer for no reason whatsoever. Remember that they are still collecting insurance premiums this entire time. Just for example, a colleague of her’s was held without a single payment for 6 whole CONSECUTIVE months! She still contracts part-time for TriCare, but is now forced to take on private clients or risk total financial collapse.

So what good reason could these insurance companies have for refusing to pay these honest, hard-working people? In my opinion, they are just making excuses so that they can line their own pockets. The economy is bad for everyone, but even worse for these analysts who are barely getting paid at all. For all the research, all the success stories, all the good-natured charities working to further the cause…

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more damaging or damning to Autism Awareness, or developmental disabilities in general, than refusing to pay the researchers and analysts in the field. Hopefully something is done soon, before the US falls behind in yet another category, due to corporate greed, deception and lies.

Usually at this time of the year, my fiancée would be thinking about what presents to buy for her clients and where she would be going for the holidays. This year she has to worry about anxiety-issues, trouble sleeping, and how she’s going to pay the bills. All we can do is hope and pray that my paycheck and her leftover savings will be enough to pay the rent this month. Things would probably be different if a TriCare official had a child with Autism.

Wong_83@Hotmail.com

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How about a Little Noise for the Baltimore Orioles!!

I am, when compared to an average fan, a bleeds orange, die hard Orioles fan. I have loved them ever since I was a toddler, even before I knew about Cal Ripken Jr. and his record-setting career. I don’t even think it was a choice, seeing as how I was born at Johns Hopkins, like all of 5 blocks away from Camden Yards. If your not from the area, which I’ll generously set as somewhere in the state of Maryland, you probably have no idea how fiercely we protect anything about our city. This goes double for our sports teams, the Orioles, the Ravens and heck, even the Blast. There is not a person in this world that I wouldn’t humiliate, destroy, insult or shank if it meant one more win for one of my beloved teams.

Ok, Maybe that’s going a little too far. Just as a disclaimer for legal purposes, ignore the words, “destroy” and “shank.” Damn right I’m passionate, it’s been 15 years since our last winning season and every year it’s been the same old thing. Either a). They start off the season going something like 15-3 and end up being 21 games out of a playoff spot by the end of the year, or b). They stink up South Baltimore until right around the All-Star break and then all of a sudden play over .500 baseball the rest of the way. This has the dual-effect of causing us to wonder WHY we couldn’t do that through an entire season and basically tossing us a shriveled tasteless bone to chew on. We’d say, “At least the latter-half of the season looked promising, hopefully next year.,,”

Well No Longer! Somehow someway we have for the most part put together a season of dreams. As of tonight, 9/7/12, after shelling the New York Yankees(77-60), ie: our most hated rival, with 6, count ’em, 6 home-runs, not only are we 17 games over .500 but the Orioles are also tied with the Yankees for the best record  in the AL East! Now how about we actually make some noise??

To the people in the national media, our beloved Orioles are nothing but an aberrant statistic. They point to their fancy run differentials and the fact that our team as a whole is hitting only .247, tied for 21st in the league. How many times have I read articles about the Pirates, Angels or especially Tampa Bay(75-62) stating how well positioned these teams were to earn a playoff spot based on their expensive free-agents and strong starting pitching?

All I’ve heard about the hard-charging Orioles is that our team won’t last and that we’re just getting lucky in close ball games. Everyone knows about our record in games decided by 1 run but look at our record in games decided by 2 runs, which is still a respectable 46-20. Our main hitters, as in Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters, have all posted superior numbers over the past 32 or so games. Even some of our supplementary players, such as Ryan Flaherty, Chris Davis, JJ Hardy and star rookie 3rd baseman Manny Machado are all currently hitting near .280. You want run differential? Over the past month, the Orioles are +45 and are averaging 4.88 runs/game while giving up only 3.47runs/game. Those numbers only get better if you look at the past two months. Reynolds alone has 7 HR in the past 2 weeks while tonight Jones hit his 28th HR of year.

To get this kind of production and this many wins out of this piecemeal band of brothers, Manager Buck Showalter must have sold his soul to the Devil or turned into a Bokor, otherwise known as an evil practitioner of Voodoo. All jokes aside, even if we don’t win the AL East he still has my vote for Manager of the Year, if only for taking 50 different mismatched players and turning them into a team that’s currently 18 games over .500.

With the best record in all of baseball over the month of August, this gritty Orioles team has already exceeded all expectations and have quieted all critics and doubters. Quietly outplaying teams that spend twice as much money as the Orioles, our team has managed to continue to stack wins by getting solid run support behind dependable if not great starting pitching. The bullpen has been for the most part sensational and somehow we have managed to play well against everyone. Well, everyone except for the Texans.

Most of these statistics you can find on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s blog or sports website. What seems to be missing is the pulse of excitement running through the veins of every Orioles fan in a 100 mile radius of Baltimore. It’s been so long since the Orioles last winning season that an entire generation of kids and teenagers have never been to a playoff game. For the first time since the mid 90s, the coming of Autumn foretells possible playoff victory… and not just for the Baltimore Ravens.

The only thing even close to bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore would be to win the World Series. It’s funny how my expectations have changed over the season, from having a .500 season to having a winning season, to earning a wildcard spot to becoming first in the division and finally winning some playoff games. What’s to say this already magical season can’t end with a World Series victory? I know, I know, it seems far fetched but there are some solid statistics behind that line of reasoning.

I’m aware that, at least logically, the playoffs in professional baseball aren’t quite as random as in professional football. As in professional basketball, MLB playoff format is in a “best of” series format. Instead of having to win one game to advance, you have to win 2 of 3 or even 3 of 5 games. Even so, the playoffs aren’t about who had the best regular season record, it’s about who becomes hot at the right time, exactly like the other American professional sports. The Texas Rangers(82-55) had the best regular season record last season but we’re defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals(74-63), by the skin of their teeth. Even so, there are only 4 other teams in baseball with a better record than the Orioles, only one being in the American League. Add in the fact that the Washington Nationals, with the best record in baseball THIS season, are shutting down their ace in the hole pitcher Stephen Strasburg this Friday and the Orioles probably have as good a shot as anyone to make it to the World Series!

I mean think about it for a second. The usually dangerous Boston Red Sox(63-75) are close to firing their manager, The Yankees are 20-26 since July 18th as injuries and weak hitting have conspired to leave our hated rival to the North nearly impotent. If EVER there was a chance for the Orioles to make a play for the AL East pennant it would be right now.

Despite the 13th lowest payroll in MLB, despite the fact that our team is primarily made up of misfits, washed-up free agents and home-grown talent, despite every critic, talking head and newspaper outside of Baltimore writing us off, we have continued to out-think and out-play teams with far more resources and more recognizable players. We aren’t looking for hand-outs and slowly but surely our fans have trickled back into Camden Yards(43,000+ showed up tonight!). If we continue to take care of business by winning the games we’re supposed to win, the national media will be forced to take us seriously. Until then, how about all of us who live in Maryland or Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, make as much noise as possible. Already they hear us in New York.

~Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Michael and most of his friends have been tailgating and going to games at both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium since before the current Camden Yards was built. There was a time when it seemed his group of friends were the only ones sitting in the bleachers, drinking foamy beer and eating cheap hot dogs while cheering every time a Yankee or Red Sox player got injured.