State lawmakers offer up pair of autism-related bills

1/8/2009 6:47:13 AM
Daily Journal
 
 

BY GINNY MILLER
Daily Journal

Parents of children with autism and autism-like symptoms are hopeful for the passage of two bills, one dealing with vaccination exemptions, introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday.

“I am thrilled, but I want to see results,” said Nicole Boyd of Oxford, the mother of a 4-year-old with autism, a disorder that impairs social interaction and communication and affects one in 150 children.

Boyd’s father, state Rep. Noal Akins of Lafayette County, sponsored similar autism legislation in 2008.

“It was introduced last year and didn’t make it out of the House committee,” Boyd said, noting that this time around, “I want to see some action.”

On Tuesday, state Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, and Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, introduced autism bills. Jordan’s, referred to the Public Health and Welfare committee, seeks to continue a task force to study rising autism rates.

Fillingane’s bill deals with allowing exemption from school attendance with a physician’s certificate. It was sent to Public Health and Welfare and the Education committee.

For a child to enter school or daycare, Mississippi law requires immunization against childhood diseases. The schedule begins with newborns, and over time children receive vaccinations against numerous diseases.

State law allows for medical exemptions in certain instances, but many parents and autism advocates argue such requests are systematically denied.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, is leading a separate charge to allow medical - not religious and philosophical – exemptions for vaccinations. He assembled a legislative panel in Tupelo last month and is working on his own bill to modify Mississippi’s immunization schedule.

“We’ve got to do a lot of work on it,” said Holland, chairman of the House Public Health Committee. “It’s very complicated and complex.”

While there is no scientific link between autism and vaccines, some parents say children with weak immune systems cannot handle vaccinations like healthier children.

Akins also is working on a bill dealing with insurance reform.

“Basically, if your child has autism, insurance does not cover treatment,” Boyd said, noting yearly expenses for applied behavior therapy can cost $50,000 to $75,000.

Holland said Feb. 14 is the deadline for getting bills out of committee.

Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or ginny.miller@djournal.com.

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