Mother on mission for autism treatment: "I would love to hear my son say 'I love you'"

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One Lexington mother's longest dream is to hear her 6-year-old son tell her the words 'I love you.'

She's not alone. There are parents in South Carolina fighting to get their children certain treatment for autism.

Families like the Manley's claim there is a shortage of healthcare providers for those on Medicaid because the Medicaid rate of reimbursement to the clinics is so little.

Ashley Manley's son, 6-year-old Zephaniah, is one example. Manley says he is on a waiting list, and that he's been on lists for more than 2 years.

She says three words to Zephaniah, or Zeph for short, often: 'I love you.' She waits for the day she will hear them back since Zeph cannot speak. He has autism, which means he is cognitively about the age of 18 months, Manley believes.

"I would love to hear my son say, 'I love you, Mom.' I would love to hear him speak. I would love to be able to have the dignity to use a public restroom and not be changed in the back of my car…," she says.

Zeph has been prescribed 40 hours of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) per week. It's believed it would help him to speak and do things for himself independently, eventually.

The hourly rate of Medicaid reimbursement in South Carolina is $17 an hour. That's low, next to the national average of $40.

"How is a mom supposed to help her child when she's done all she can but then nothing else is happening, nothing else is moving? And it makes you feel like your child is being disenfranchised," Manley says.

She's testified at the State House. She hopes this will be the year lawmakers raise the rate. Representative James Smith (D- Richland) tried to do that last year, but it failed by one vote. He plans to try again this year.

"I'm not encouraged. I think it'll either happen when the courts make South Carolina to provide a rate that's enough to bring the services here, or we're going to have a battle on the floor of the House and try to get support for it," Smith says.

Until then, Manley does her best communicating with Zeph.

"When it's just him and me in this room and it's dark and it's quiet and I look him in the eyes and I say, 'Zeph, I love you. Do you love me?' And he goes (gestures). I can- he's in there. And I know he has potential," she says.

The Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) says they have approved 1,729 children for treatment, and there are 151 providers in the state, but say it's too soon to tell based on Medicaid claim returns just how many of those children are actually being treated.

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