Most of the time, when such high price tags are associated with autism treatment, it's because the treatment involves applied behavioral analysis (ABA) at the recommended 40 hours per week - and/or because parents have opted for high-priced biomedical interventions that are not covered by insurance. Today, while ABA is certainly not universally free of charge, many states in the US are now requiring that insurers cover "evidence based" treatments (usually code for ABA) - and at least some Canadian provinces are in the process of developing legislation to cover ABA. Meanwhile, quite a few schools are also offering ABA or versions of behavioral therapy as part of an "autism education" package.
But what if you're not among those lucky families who have free access to ABA? Or what if, like me, you choose to go a different route when providing therapy to your child with autism? Are there ways to lower costs? The answer, of course, is yes - and here are just a few recommendations to get you started:
- Start by working with your insurance company to find out whether and how you might get treatments covered. It may be easier than you imagined - though it sometimes takes some extra time and energy to negotiate the system.
- Visit AutismFreeZone.com, a new website that allows parents to exchange autism-related products such books, DVDs, tools and toys - for the cost of shipping.
- Consider bartering with a therapist instead of simply paying out of pocket. If you can offer a useful service or product - such as plumbing, landscaping, or even babysitting - your therapist might well consider making a deal. Even if you can't work out a 1:1 exchange of services, you might be able to cut costs considerably.
- Choose to be trained as a therapist. ABA requires only a relatively short commitment of time (weeks as opposed to years) - and for far less than the cost of one year of therapy for your child, you can become a trained therapy provider. Even better, it's possible that over time you can begin to earn money as a therapist for other children!
- Choose a therapy (like Floortime or RDI) that can be implemented by parents with little or no formal training. While all of these and other parent-centered programs do offer high-priced training seminars and 1:1 consulting, much of the therapeutic content comes from intensive parent-child interaction, and a good deal of the training can be accessed through books, web seminars and DVDs.
- Hire a student to work with your child. If you hire a college student who's studying to be a therapist, you're golden. But even the right high schooler can do a terrific job helping your child to build social skills, play skills and collaborative skills. Students may not be highly trained, but they're often loaded with energy and creative ideas - and they certainly charge less than the typical trained therapist.
- Choose biomedical therapies that can be implemented at relatively low cost and with low risk. Then, shop around for deals. Join co-ops and shop online to avoid the high price of gluten-free products and supplements often charged in specialty shops.
- Make your own therapeutic products. There's really no need to buy a $100-dollar set of picture cards when you can make your own for free using downloadable clipart and your own digital photos. If you can sew, you can make your own weighted blankets and vests; if you can use a drill and screwdriver you can make your own indoor swings.
- Avoid labels that say "sensory toy" or "special needs." There's certainly no need to spend big bucks for specialized "sensory" toys when the same toy with a different label is available at an eighth of the price at a discount store.
- Great sources for low-cost, high quality gluten and casein-free foods;
- Good options for ABA training and great ways to locate ABA trainees to work with your child;
- Free sources of picture cards and other teaching and communication tools;
- Innovative ideas for helping kids with autism build skills - without spending a fortune on therapy.