People of all ages with autism to get insurance coverage starting January 2020

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) Tuesday, Governor Northam will ceremoniously sign a bill into law that removes the age cap on health care coverage for people with autism.

At the Autism Clinic at Virginia Tech, Dr. Angela Scarpa-Friedman leads research teams in studying autism.

"It's a neuro-developmental disorder, meaning that it starts early in development and is thought to have neuro-biological underpinnings," Friedman said.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not easily defined. The disorder affects three primary areas of function.

"That includes social communication, and social interaction, and then also the presence of repetitive behaviors, preoccupations, and interests," she explained.

At the university, researchers study the causes and effects of autism in bio-medical, clinical, educational, and technology based research. They also study the way autism can present other challenges as a person gets older.

"Children with autism as they grow, they may be at risk for other things like depression and anxiety and other kinds of disorders or conditions," Friedman said.

Friedman says that's why removing the age cap for health care coverage is so crucial, because autism doesn't just go away when a child reaches a certain age. For years Virginia law had set the age cap at 10 years old.

"It's fantastic that the age cap was removed," Friedman said. "Autism is a lifelong and chronic condition. As they change, the way that the symptoms present themselves also change."

The sooner kids are diagnosed with autism, the more effective treatment can be. However, many people with autism still need help even into adulthood.

"Therefore, as children age into teenagers and young adults and then into adulthood and even old age, they still need some assistance and some support, depending on the treatments they've gotten early on or the severity of their particular presentation," Friedman said.

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Thousands of them live right here in Virginia. The bill will be signed at the Bell Tower in Richmond Tuesday morning. Coverage will start in January 2020.