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Sunday, October 16, 2011

W.Va. board withdraws autism rule after lawsuit

By Lawrence Messina
Associated Press
Published September 27, 2011

The West Virginia board that regulates psychologists voted Tuesday to withdraw an emergency rule that claimed jurisdiction over specialists who treat children with autism, after the new policy spurred a lawsuit and an outcry among parents of these children and their supporters.

The rule issued in July by the state Board of Examiners of Psychologists has been misinterpreted and misunderstood, board Executive Director Jeffrey Harlow said in a statement emailed to the media late Tuesday.

"The parents are calling the board and expressing fear and anger," the statement said, adding that "The last thing the Board would want to do is obstruct the provision of vitally needed services to these vulnerable children."

The rule had barred applied behavioral analysis, a therapy considered crucial for many children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, unless a licensed psychologist supervised the ABA analyst. When it applied for the rule, the board called the providing of this therapy outside its jurisdiction "an immediate threat to public safety."

"There is a relatively small, but most likely soon to increase, group of individuals engaging in the practice of psychology who are not licensed and who do not meet the minimum education and training requirements for licensure," the board wrote when it sought the rule. "They are not prepared to practice independently, lack oversight and constitute a serious and immediate concern to public safety."

A certified ABA analyst, Jill Scarbro-McLaury, sued the board last week, asking a judge to scuttle the rule. Her Kanawha Circuit lawsuit alleged that ABA therapy is separate and distinct from psychology, and has been practiced in West Virginia for years without the board's interference.

"We are encouraged that the board recognized that the rule should be pulled since it was in violation of the law, and we hope no more road blocks are placed in front of our families who just want to help their children," Scarbro-McLaury said in an email.

The board pursued the rule over a new law that will eventually require both public and private insurers to cover ABA therapy. Parents of children with these neurological ailments and their supporters had lobbied the Legislature for several years for the measure. Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the regular session bill into law in April.

The entire story can be read here.

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