RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers are moving to eliminate a barrier to behavioral health care, in particular for children with autism.

Health care providers known as behavior analysts provide therapy to a range of people, including those with autism. Some work one-on-one with individuals with autism, including teaching kids with autism to talk, use the bathroom or reduce self-harm.

Under current state regulations, behavior analysts cannot practice independently. Their work must be overseen by a licensed psychologist.

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Two pieces of legislation filed recently, if passed, would mean North Carolina will no longer be the only state with such a requirement.

House Bill 91, sponsored by state Rep. John Bell, a Republican from Goldsboro, and Senate Bill 103, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Perry, a Republican from Kinston, 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, a Democrat from 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.”

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.”

Reducing ‘unnecessary regulations’

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.

But only an estimated 60 psychologists can also work independently as board-certified behavior analysts, said Monique Baker, who is a behavior analyst and business owner serving 50 children with autism.

“This is why my company, along with 80% of (applied behavior analysis) companies in North Carolina, will continue to have long wait lists, some as long as 400 children, unless we pass this bill,” Baker said. She called on lawmakers to “reduce the unnecessary regulations that are keeping children with autism from getting the services that they desperately need.”

Behavior analysts are licensed in more than 30 states, according to the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, and of the other states that do not license such practitioners, none require supervision.

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.

The North Carolina Psychological Association also supports the legislation.

© 2021 The News & Observer
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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