When it comes to autism treatment in West Virginia, a law mandating insurance coverage opened a new door for some, but not all, children in the state, and the ones who are may not be near someone who's certified to treat them. More are coming into the state, but there is a long road ahead.
At West Virginia University's Center for Excellence in Disabilities, it's not hard to find students or volunteers willing to work with autistic children, like Tristan and Autumn Hinebaugh.
"To the point where they come in as students, and then they stay another year," said Dr. Susannah Poe, the director of the autism clinic. "Once you do this work, it's hard to walk away from it. There's not too much that's more rewarding."
The students, volunteers, and basically anyone who works with the children light up whenever they see or talk about them.
"They are extremely fun, wonderful kids," mom Tina Hinebaugh said. "They're a child first. They just happen to be autistic."
The clinic is a training ground for WVU's applied behavioral analysis program, but there hasn't been a market for their skills until now.
"We don't tend to retain a lot of the students who graduate from our university because they can't get jobs here," said Emily Harris, a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) and WVU graduate.
Emily's job is leading Training and Resources for Autism Insurance Navigation in West Virginia (TRAIN WV), a year-long program to implement the new autism law funded by the Benedum Foundation.
Part of that is connecting families to providers when there's one near-by.
"I get calls from families all the time for referrals," Emily said. "They're covered. They have the insurance provider and they need to find the BCBA who can do the services and I want to raise my hand and say ‘I'll do it! I'll do it!'"
She knows she can't take care of all of them, though, no matter how much she would like to. She is busy enough with the rest of her job, working with insurers and providers to make billing and paying easier.
Morris said TRAIN WV has made big strides over the last year in that direction. If it's easier for more professionals to make a living in West Virginia, then they can stay and make a difference.
But for the 75 percent of West Virginian children who are not covered, the changes will make little difference. The series concludes Friday, with more on the road ahead for autism treatment in our state.