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House Bill 91, sponsored by Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, and Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, would provide a path for behavior analysts to obtain licensure and practice on their own. It would also create a board tasked with licensing, disciplining and setting rules for the providers. The legislators are joined by a number of their Senate and House colleagues who are also sponsoring the bill, including Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, whose two children are on the autism spectrum. Hawkins said his children are able to receive care from behavior analysts, but many families in rural areas are not. “In North Carolina, we say where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow great,” Hawkins said. “And this bill is a bill that helps us exemplify that.” ⛽

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The possible change, supporters say, would make it easier for thousands of families to get behavioral health care for their loved ones with autism. “For us as a family, the most important thing is you want your child to reach their full potential,” said Kyle Robinson, whose wife, Bobbie, quit her job to drive their son from their home in Greenville to Winston-Salem every week for therapy. “This bill is going to allow more access to care, which is really vital in Eastern North Carolina, and also quality.”⛅

Around one in every 39 children have autism spectrum disorder in North Carolina, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That translates to more than 60,000 children with autism in the state, supporters of the bills said in a news conference Tuesday morning.⛴️

Former Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady sponsored similar legislation in previous legislative sessions, garnering bipartisan support among lawmakers. The House passed the bill 112-2 in 2019, but it stalled in the Senate. “I got thwarted towards the end of last session and Rep. Bell talked me down from exploding things, and I’m glad he did,” McGrady said. The North Carolina Psychological Association also supports the legislation.

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Some are concerned that loosening up licensure for BCBAs in North Carolina may not provide the relief that parents are looking for anytime soon. A review of the landscape published in late 2019 found there are just too few BCBAs in the entire U.S. Researchers used national data from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and found that only Massachusetts had enough practitioners to meet demand. North Carolina had only about one provider per 100 children who needed services when the study authors found that about six providers would be enough to satisfy the unmet need. Florida had the most ABA providers in the Southeast with less than four practitioners per 100 children with autism spectrum disorder.

“Workforce policies are needed to increase the supply of ABA providers if we want to increase access to these services,” said senior author Janet Cummings, from Emory University in a press release on the study. “If there are not enough ABA providers in a community, then efforts to improve early screening and identification will not necessarily lead to an increase in the receipt of ABA among youth in need of these services.” An investigation by North Carolina Health News done in 2018 also found there were only a few hundred therapists in the state at the time, resulting in long waits for access to services. That number has ticked up to about 650 therapists in the state, plus about 1850 behavior analysis technicians who carry out the bulk of daily treatment.

This story was originally published May 14, 2021 9:57 AM.

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