ABC's 'The Good Doctor' is putting a spotlight on the growing segment of the population with autism. When you mention the disorder, people think about children. But, WAAY 31 learned, as those kids age, resources and services available are limited.
Gage Tomerlin, 18, has dreams of becoming a historian or journalist. Gage was diagnosed with autism when he was two. He didn't speak until he was five. Gage relies on his family and support through various work programs to help prepare for his future. "I like the program where they teach you about jobs and it's very important because autistic people have trouble dealing with other people," he said.
Gage's dad, Tom Tomerlin, said it is a struggle for older kids. A struggle both emotionally and financially for the Tomerlins.
The Special Learning Company added up the costs of having a child with autism. It states Applied Behavioral Analysis sessions cost $15,000 a year, or $30 per hour. Speech, occupational, and physical therapy costs $12,000 a year, or $75 per half-hour session. When doctors' visits, education, and other expenses totals are added in, it totals $19,000 to $47,500 per year. Keep in mind, all of these numbers are estimates.
Dr. Whitney Meade, an assistant professor at UAH said occupational, physical and speech therapy services are paid for by the school system under federal law. "However, once a student leaves the school system at the age of 21, there isn't a funding source for those services," said Meade.
It leaves many families forced to choose between getting the bills paid or getting help for their child.
"All the out of pocket costs can be financially crushing. We're still in debt from when Gage was a young man because it was so expensive. No coverage, whatsoever!" said Tom Tomerlin.
But, there is some hope.
An austism bill was signed into law in May 2017. It requires insurance companies to pay for some of those services, which eases the financial strain on some families. The problem-- the law is still being phased in.
"Honestly, it is so new, we are still waiting for it to be fully implemented," said Dr. Meade.
Todd isn't sure what the law will cover, but he is adament on getting the age limit raised higher than what it is now.
As we wait to find out how this will affect Tennessee Valley families, Gage is pushing forward with his journalism career. He interviewed Alabama Senate Candidate Doug Jones and pressed him about health care coverage. He said many politicians, "dodge the questions."
The Riley Behavioral Health and Rehabilitation Center, Autism Society of Alabama and Glenwood offer several services for adults with autism in the Tennessee Valley.