By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
Quess Hood of Ripley presented a program on autism at the March 11 meeting of the Eupora Rotary Club.
The Eupora native has served as a special education teacher for 14 years. He is the autism specialist for South Tippah School District and serves as a member of the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Hood also serves as the state’s Autism Speaks advocate. He has devoted much of his time pushing legislation to be passed forcing insurance companies to cover expenses related to autism.
Autism is a disorder that impairs communication and socialization, and also results in repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Hood’s 6-year-old son, Jasper, is diagnosed with atypical autism. Jasper, he said, does not talk except for an occasional yes or no but does communicate nonverbally.
These are some of the statistics Hood cited about autism:
• Autism is now the fastest growing disability in the United States and has a cost of $60 billion annually.
• One in 88 children now have the disorder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
• About 56 percent of the children in high school who have an autism diagnosis won’t graduate.
Early intervention is important, said Hood, adding that the younger is child is when he or she can undergo therapy, the better. Jasper is undergoing therapy in Tupelo.
“The only thing we want for our son is for him to be a taxpayer,” Hood said. “We want our kid to contribute.”
Hood also discussed autism insurance reform legislation that would require coverage of the screening, diagnosis and treatment, including applied behavior analysis, of autism for state employees and teachers.
The Mississippi House of Representatives approved its version of the bill in February. Hood said the Senate is sending the bill to the floor with an amendment, which could delay implementation for a year, to allow for further study.
“We’re pushing for insurance to cover autism because school districts shouldn’t have to pay for medical care of students,” said Hood.
Mississippi is one of 16 states that does not have laws requiring health insurers cover autism therapies. It has raised premiums in the states that do an average of 31 cents per policy holder, according to Hood.