A congressionally mandated pilot program set to launch July 25 will enhance an existing Defense Department program that provides care and treatment for military children with autism, a senior DoD official said.
Jonathan Woodson, MD, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Activity, met with reporters recently to explain the new program.
An estimated 8,500 children of active-duty military families have a form of autism, Woodson said. He sought to dispel military parents' concerns about rumors of a potential loss in benefits for their children with autism and autism spectrum disorder.
"We understand that there's a lot of anxiety in the community of interest around autism about suspected changes that would adversely affect care," he said. "Providing care to children who have autism spectrum disorder and making sure they get the full range of care they need is a priority to us."
"All care will be continued," Woodson added, noting that active-duty service members' children's autism care benefits in the applied behavior analysis administered through TRICARE would not change.
"Anyone who's receiving care under the [Enhanced Access to Autism Services Demonstration] - there will be no change," he said.
There's also no change in benefits to anyone enrolled in the basic medical program that began July 2012, Woodson said. An expansion of services through the autism pilot program, he added, will also allow retirees and their families to receive ASD benefits.
Autism care and treatment is evolving, Woodson said.
"In the future, we'll try to identify what the best practice is for the periodic assessments - who should get it and over what period of time," he said, noting the pilot program is expected to yield "great insight" into evaluation protocols.
The pilot program was developed by crafting requirements through consulting with experts in the field and advocacy groups to "try to find validated tests and the best strategy for focusing on what would be the right care at the right time for children [with autism]," Woodson said.
Woodson said the pilot program's overall focus is directed at families, and what is best for their child. Parents' input will be sought to ensure their issues are represented as the program is shaped, he added.
There is "an expanding need and recognition" of military families with children who have autism, Woodson said. Integral to increasing autism treatment capability, he said, is having a large network of providers that work with autistic children.
"We continually try to improve ... [and] expand our network of providers," he said. "I think we have one of the most robust networks available."
Woodson said it is "paramount" for children with autism to obtain professional reassessments to ensure they get the right care, at the right time, with updated care plans.
"That's what we're all about," he said. "Focusing on the child and what's best and providing the families with access to these services."