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James’ journey: From autism diagnosis to mainstream class

First Published      Last Updated Mar 03 2014 09:25 am

Hearing her son James diagnosed with classical autism when he was about 2 years old changed Angie Watterson's life.

"It started six months of me trying to get him on every waiting list I could get him on for therapy," the Tooele County mother said. "Our insurance wouldn't cover anything."

Her family drained savings to pay for about nine months of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, then ran out of money and had to quit.

"Trying to get him into an affordable therapy program, especially one that didn't have a year waiting list, was next to impossible," she said.

But the Stansbury Park boy became one of about 300 Utah children selected in a lottery to receive free autism behavioral therapy through Medicaid. His progress, Watterson said, has been incredible.

Early fears that the treatment pilot program was designed to fail, based on its low pay, were eased when the Utah Department of Health agreed to reimburse therapists more. While the program has, by all measures, has been a success, it will expire in June if Utah lawmakers don't pass HB88, a bill to permanently extend it.

Watterson prays they do. She also wants lawmakers to mandate insurance coverage of the expensive ABA therapy.

"I don't want James to be normal. We love him. My goal is to help him reach his potential," said Watterson. "Autistic kids absolutely have the ability to do amazing things. They have to be given the tools."

Watch for additional weekend coverage at www.sltrib.com and in the print edition of The Salt Lake Tribune about the success of the lottery programs, and the debate in the Utah Legislature now about how to get insurance coverage for therapy for more kids with autism.