TOPEKA — The most common therapy for autism could become available in schools across the state.
Applied behavioral analysis therapy, also called ABA therapy, helps people with autism develop behavioral skills. Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, this week pitched an amendment to the Kansas House school finance bill that would require schools to provide the therapy if a parent requests it.
“A lot of schools are already providing this therapy, but some choose not to,” Schwab said. “This puts the power with the parents who say, ‘I want my child to get this service.’ ”
ABA therapy involves individualized therapy plans that could include more than 20 hours of sessions per week. Since the 1960s, it has become the most common therapy in the U.S., according to Autism Speaks, an autism awareness group. ABA is designed to build useful skills needed to learn in the classroom, as well as skills for everyday interactions.
Other kinds of autism therapy are mandated under current law, but ABA isn’t. Approximately 2,000 students currently have access to the therapy through their schools, Schwab said, but many do not.
Exact costs of the mandate aren’t yet available, but Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, told the panel the costs could be “insignificant across the state” if only a few new ABA-trained staff were needed.
Schwab said he suspected the benefits would outweigh the costs.
“I think we all agree that ABA therapy provides better outcomes, and if you’re getting better outcomes, your costs are going to be less,” he said.
Schwab’s amendment was easily attached to the school finance bill Tuesday, but Wednesday it briefly caused debate. A provision of the bill allows physicians, along with parents, to recommend the ABA therapy. Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, questioned whether a physician legally could prescribe the therapy. She made a motion to reconsider the item, which Schwab called “out of line.”
After some heated back-and-forth during the hearing, the committee decided to discuss the matter further today.
The amendment is one of a handful of policy matters left for the panel to discuss before finalizing the school finance bill.