On Sunday October 9, Gov. Jerry Brown signed historic legislation requiring health insurers to cover behavioral health treatments for children with autism and serious developmental disorders. The Autism Insurance Mandate Bill (SB 946), authored by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and co-sponsored by the Special Needs Network, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, provides families with the relief they have sought and thousands of children with hope for the future.
Autism is the fastest-growing childhood disease in America. A recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal confirms that one in every 91 American children, including one in every 58 boys born today will be diagnosed with autism. In California alone, two children are diagnosed every hour. This complex neurological disorder is taking its toll on school districts, communities and families across the nation.
Buoyed by the governor’s action earlier in the day, excitement was in the air at the organization’s Sixth Annual Evening Under the Stars Gala Sunday evening. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Special Needs Network President Areva Martin, Steinberg, and other guests, at the California Science Center, where they celebrated the passage of the landmark legislation.
The Special Needs Network, is the only nonprofit organization in South Los Angeles providing free resources, and services to special needs families. This year’s event was themed “Awareness, Access, and Advocacy” and in addition to the passing of SB 946, it honored a host of figures who have made an impact in the autism community. They included: Dr. David Carlisle, the newly elected President of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen, producers of Dear John, the Twilight series, and the new ABC show Revenge; and Dr. Tumani Leatherwood and Dr. Jose Cervantes, directors of the first Kaiser Permanente medical office in South Los Angeles. A special Local Hero Award was presented to Steinberg, who has been a tremendous champion of the autism community.
The evening also included the premiere of the CBS-produced documentary Camp JPAC: the feature, chronicling Special Needs Network’s free summer camp catered to children from undeserved communities as well as typically-developing friends and siblings.
As part of its larger mission, the network serves as a link between underserved communities and mainstream developmental disability organizations and governmental institutions, which often fail to address issues specific to these communities.