Opinion | We must work together to reverse Whitmer cuts to autism services


Republican state Rep. Julie Calley represents Barry County and part of Ionia County. Ben Frederick also is a Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives (District 85) and the former mayor of Owosso.

Over the next year, thousands of Michigan families will have their lives forever changed by an autism diagnosis. As parents of special needs children, both of us remember the fear and uncertainty we felt when our own kids were diagnosed. 

Fortunately, families in Michigan have a great place to turn for answers. Since the Autism Navigator program started, its specialists have connected thousands of families with resources. They work with people in all stages of their autism journey, from parents who need help answering insurance questions and identifying education resources to adults with autism who need assistance finding housing and jobs. 

The Autism Navigator program, along with other critical autism support services, have always been met with widespread enthusiasm. Helping families of children with autism is not a partisan issue. It’s simply the right thing to do. That’s why we were so surprised to see these programs gutted by the governor’s budget vetoes.

Gov. Whitmer was wrong to use our most vulnerable residents as leverage in the road funding debate. Now that she’s had some time to reflect on her decisions, we hope our governor will be willing to admit her mistake and restore funding for these vital services. 

To give her a second chance, we introduced a proposal this week that would restore funding for the autism services she cut from the budget. 

This includes $1.025 million for the Autism Navigator, as well as the $100,000 stripped from another successful and well-established program called Train the Trainer. This funding is used to help schools train teachers to be able to identify and assist children with behavioral health concerns.

It also includes $350,000 the governor vetoed for a new autism intervention program called the PLAY Project. The pilot program would have provided specialized training to at least 60 providers of Early On Michigan, an intervention service for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. 

Research has shown that 10 to 20 hours of one-on-one therapy a week markedly improves the development of children with autism, especially when provided early in life. Unfortunately, medical providers in many communities have long wait lists, leaving young children waiting to receive treatment. The most critical period of development occurs when a child is between 18 months and 3 years old. A six to 12-month delay for treatment during this period can affect a child’s entire course of life.

Through the PLAY program, Early On providers would receive special training specifically designed to address the needs of families and empower people to help their children using evidence-based, parent-implemented models of intervention.

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is increasing, with 1 in 59 children affected, making it the most common severe disability impacting children in Michigan. 

We can’t let the governor’s cuts hurt these kids. We’re committed to working together with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore funding to these important programs.

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Tue, 10/15/2019 - 12:09am

This woman’s choices are shocking. I am so sorry that I voted for her. I feel that she is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She is disguised as a democrat. One and done. She’s a loser for 2020. I wonder if she realizes this yet?

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 7:08am

Amen, Miss Audra. Let's together make One-Term-Whitmer come true.

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 1:00pm

It is unfortunate that Republicans step outside of their "businesses first, people second" mentality ONLY when their own families are impacted. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but did I miss when Reps. Calley and Frederick voiced opposition to the Republican's passage of Medicaid Work Requirements, which could negatively impact more individuals (adults and children) living with Autism? We saw what happened in Kentucky when these work requirements were implemented; tens of thousands of eligible beneficiaries were kicked off Medicaid. One can assume at least a percentage of those beneficiaries had Autism and relied on Medicaid for services/support.

It is absurd for two individuals whose families will receive lifetime health insurance benefits at the expense of MI taxpayers to pen an op-ed stating their democratic colleague has caused more harm to children with Autism then they themselves have.

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 2:56pm

Well said LLA. Bravo

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 2:59pm

*And by Kentucky, I meant Arkansas (although Kentucky's work requirement law was also blocked by a judge due to the law being a complete mess).

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 5:53pm

I am a community living support worker that works with adults with Autism. The state requires cpr, first aid, bloodborne pathogens, and receiptiant rights training. I intitally contacted Whitmur about the low pay and that they do not reimburse for the cost of all that training. Comes out of my own pocket.. Cpr and first aid costs me 150$..and I at most got paid 250 a week. They also do not pay me to take them to doctor's appointments; to go in with them so the doctor and consumer are able to communicate properly. Lastly I'm only reimbursed $0.35 a mile to drive them all over town. It is funny that the cost of the paperwork is more than I am paid for doing the service... So yeah it is important to have... But it could be tweaked a ton.