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One Mom's Fight For Autism Health Coverage

As a baby, Ava Bullard was oblivious to her family, toys and the world around her. “She didn’t acknowledge that we were ever with her. She had no language or ability to communicate with us at all,” explains her mother, Anna Bullard of Lyons, Georgia. “That as a mom goes right to your heart, that your child doesn’t know you or see you as their mother or as someone who can help them.”

A specialist diagnosed Ava with autism and predicted she would never speak.

Today, the 8 year old is indistinguishable from her peers, chatting excitedly about what she wants to be when she grows up and attending mainstream classes full of good friends. Her mother credits hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of intensive early intervention treatments — which the family was forced to pay for entirely out of pocket. 

Plus: What Is Autism?

Although the Bullards had medical insurance, Georgia’s state-regulated health care plans are not required to cover autism-related therapies or treatments. In fact, even though an estimated one in 88 U.S. kids has an autism spectrum disorder, just 32 states require insurers to cover autism (and one of those — Alabama — only requires coverage in certain situations.) Many of those state laws were passed within the past four years. Click here to find out what your state requires. 

Today, Anna Bullard is leading the charge in Georgia with Ava’s Law, a bill that would require the state’s health insurers to cover autism-related care, which can cost parents up to $50,000 annually for one child.

When Ava was diagnosed, Bullard asked the specialist about early intervention therapies she had seen online. The doctor shot her down. “She said, ‘That’s the Cadillac version. You’ll never be able to afford it. Put her in special ed.’” Bullard persevered, doggedly seeking out help until she found a specialized therapist who would come to her home. Click here to download a tool kit on finding coverage.

Ava spent 40 hours a week doing focused treatments – half with the therapist and half with Bullard to save money. Within three days, Ava sat at a table and followed a one-step direction. Within two months, she started signing ‘cup’ when she was thirsty. Within a year, she went from not speaking to talking at a 2-year-old level. “It was an amazing process to begin to see Ava being to come out and want to be with us,” Bullard says. 

Plus: Guidelines for Early Detection and Treatment of Autism

Relatives and community members helped the family pay for Ava’s costly care. But Bullard knows many families aren’t as lucky — and she’s seen first-hand just how much of a life-changing effect the treatments can have. “It makes the difference of Ava being able to talk and have friends and have a normal life,” she says.

Ava’s Law would give all autistic kids in Georgia have that same chance, Bullard says. As she lobbied for the bill at the Georgia capital recently, she met a mother of a two-year-old daughter. The little girl had been diagnosed with autism a month earlier.  “She was there trying to find out how to get help for her daughter,” Bullard says. “It broke my heart. No parent, when their child is diagnosed with a disorder, should be at the capital taking to legislators.”