Autism Treatments Coming Along Slowly in State


As the country recognizes autism awareness month, the state is making progress, but researchers across West Virginia say there’s still a long way to go.


Alec Hildebeidel is a junior journalism student at Marshall University. He was attracted to Marshall by the radio program at the student-run station WMUL. But, perhaps more importantly for Alec, the Bel Air, Maryland, native was attracted to a program at the University to help students with autism.  

When my parents were looking at schools they were looking in state at what was close, they looked at Marshall and said it's seven and a half hours away and is he going to be ok, not academically, but independently living. I went ahead and applied for the program and my parents said it was ok and my biggest transition was adapting to a new environment. – Alec Hildebeidel

The West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University is one of a few facilities in the state that are helping those with autism spectrum disorders. Alec has Asperger’s and uses the training center to help him control anxiety and other social issues. He’s one of the many students at Marshall getting the help they need while taking college classes. Marc Ellison is the center’s Executive Director and says the program receives 75 applications a year, interviews 30 to 35 and selects only 10 to 12 people.

But the Autism Training center doesn’t just offer aid to college students.  It also has staff that travels the state to work with 100 families for 9-10 months of the year. The staffers help not just family members, but also school personnel who work with their children to better understand autism.


Dr. Susannah Poe is the Autism Project Director for the Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University. She says programs like Marshall’s go a long way toward helping families in West Virginia. She says treatment techniques used in the state have come a long way in the last ten years.

I think there has been more awareness for the need for evidenced-based treatment now, we are starting to see more treatment facilities develop across the state and more board certified behavior analysts are setting up practice in the state and we still aren’t where we need to be, but we’re gaining in those areas. – Dr. Susannah Poe

Treatment Access

While treatment techniques are improving, Poe says access to insurance coverage to help pay for those treatments is stunted. In 2011, lawmakers in West Virginia required insurance providers cover autism treatments, but the legislation allowed for some exemptions. Those exemptions mean only 23 percent of West Virginia families who have children dealing with autism spectrum disorders are covered.

The legislation excluded self-funded policies, which are all the larger-funded policies in the state, like coal mines and hospitals in the state and that kind of thing. Those members of those organizations were not required to offer that insurance and then probably the largest of all was that Medicaid was excluded. – Dr. Susannah Poe

Poe says the sooner those resources are obtained, the better the chances doctors have of helping the families. Both Poe and Marc Ellison, Executive Director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall, agree adjustments are constant in the treatment of spectrum disorders.