Oct 9, 2012 8:24 PM by Matt Stafford

Dealing with Autism: treatment options and shocking new numbers for military families

"You can't touch the camera," Teresa Abercrombie tells the three and a half year old, Carl.

"Carl, no camera," Teresa continued as Carl kept getting up during the interview. He likes technology and so the camera for a television interview was a bit of a distraction.

Carl was diagnosed with Autism at twenty-two months old.

"It takes a lot of work," Teresa says. She became concerned about Carl and started making appointments for him as early as 15 months.

"A year ago this boy had four words, I think; momma, dada, juice, and more," says Abercrombie, but now that's different; he holds short conversations.

Since Carl's diagnosis, it's been a busy schedule of appointments and meetings. Teresa says he's in treatment every day of the week.

The Abercrombies aren't alone; right now one out of every 88 kids born in the United States is Autistic...some believe that number is closer to one in 50 in military families.

"There's a lot of research being done currently and people are looking into that, but as far as is there something happening to people that are being deployed, that type of thing, there's no evidence to show that at this point," explains Carley Starling, clinical director at the Colorado Autism Center in Colorado Springs.

Starling points out that TRICARE-- the military insurance plan -- has a generous policy when treating Autism. Teresa Abercrombie, whose husband is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Army, agrees that she receives far more coverage for Autism treatment than she would with a private insurance plan.

Starling even says that health care setup might even figure into the high military numbers -- more coverage might mean more diagnoses.

"When we started figuring out that something was wrong with him, that's when my husband decided to get into the military," says Teresa. She says the benefits were a huge factor in the decision; they knew they needed the benefits to help Carl.

The Abercrombies have been visiting the Colorado Autism Center, which just finished a new facility in April of this year. So have the Calderons; Oliver is 13 and was diagnosed with Autism at two and a half. Like Carl, Oliver's dad is currently deployed to Afghanistan; he's on his seventh deployment. Oliver's mom, Tatiana, says he's stayed in the Army to make sure his family keeps the coverage the Oliver needs.

This year things are changing with TRICARE's coverage for Autism treatment. Previously, payouts for Autism care were for dependents of active duty soldiers; coverage dropped when the soldier was no longer on active duty. However, after a federal challenge this summer, those benefits now extend after the soldier retires; giving families like the Calderons, who need the benefits, the option to retire and keep the coverage.

"I hope this one is the last one," Tatiana Calderon says of her husband's deployment.

Tatiana could use the help at home; it's been more difficult to care for Oliver as he's gotten older and stronger. Now Oliver is bigger than his mom.

"Some days he's got bad days, some days he's got good days," says Tatiana, so they take it one step at a time.

"I just want my son to be functional," says Teresa Abercrombie. "I don't know how far along he would be without this."

Both parents in this story say the amount of time that it takes to get an Autism diagnosis holds back a lot of families from getting critical early treatment. The Colorado Autism Center has no waiting list to get in for treatments or diagnosis. For more on the center, click here.



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