What makes the Olympics so captivating? Sure, the superhuman speeds the athletes fly down mountains and the grace with which figure skaters land triple axels keep us glued to our televisions every few years. But the thread that holds together the Olympic flag is teamwork. Representatives from nearly every country on Earth come together for sixteen days of friendly competition. And whether they’re competing individually against the clock or on a team battling another country for the gold, every single athlete has a dedicated group of people beside them: coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, nutritionists, family, and friends, supporting their quest to become the best they can be.
At the Autism Insurance Resource Center (AIRC), part of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, we know firsthand how much of a team sport raising a child or empowering an adult with autism can be. Every individual has a team rooting for and working alongside them: doctors, therapists, teachers, and psychologists, and most importantly, their family support system. Each member contributes their skills and expertise to benefit the team. At the AIRC, we support these teams, making sure clinicians and providers have information, parents find the right treatments for their children, and that they have the insurance coverage(s) to pay for it.
Our gold medal victory— truly a team triumph— came in 2010 with the passage of ARICA (an Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism), which required private health insurers in Massachusetts to cover diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. But before we even stepped off the podium, we recognized our Olympic marathon was just beginning. So we established the AIRC to help families tap into the benefits that ARICA afforded them and subsequently expanded our reach to help thousands of families with MassHealth insurance coverage access the same benefits.
Navigating health insurance is a challenging maze for everyone. Add in all the specific, nuanced medical challenges and complexities of autism— therapies, diets, medications, comorbid conditions— and that maze quickly becomes a series of seemingly insurmountable brick walls. We help people find doors in those walls or ways around the walls. Sometimes we help people jump over the walls, and, in the toughest cases, we help them break the walls down.
One family perfectly captured how our gold medal is shared by an innumerable number of teammates: “The treatment now available under this legislation is an integral reason my son continues to have the opportunity to live at home, stay in his community and remain in his school. Period. Other than maybe donating a life saving organ to somebody, I don’t know how much more ‘real’ or meaningful it gets when it comes to the wellbeing of a child and family in chronic crisis.”
We are so proud to be the recipient of a three year grant from the Flutie Foundation, because we know the critical role insurance plays in fulfilling all three of the Foundation’s goals for individuals and families: gaining access to services, leading more active lifestyles, and growing toward adult independence. It’s an honor and privilege to do this work here in Massachusetts, and we are looking forward to extending this to help other states across the nation achieve the same rights for all families living with autism.
Director, Autism Insurance Resource Center