Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Survey Response: Alena Balmforth, Candidate for Utah House 47

Alena Balmforth
Candidates for the November 2014 elections were given the opportunity to respond to a few questions relating to autism. The following responses are from Alena Balmforth, candidate for Utah House District 47.

Alena Balmforth:
The number of autism and Alzheimer cases in this state is staggering. If we don't put money into research to understand why Utah has such a high incidence rate, we, the tax payers, will be paying more money down the road to cover the care of the ever increasing number of ASD and dementia cases. It is to our benefit to help understand the disorder and its causes, educate ASD children, care for Alzheimer patients, educate and support caregivers, etc. now.
Insurance Coverage:   SB57 was passed in the 2014 legislative session. It goes into effect on January 1, 2016, and among other things, will require individual and large group plans to cover a limited amount of behavioral therapy for autistic children through age 9. The bill has a sunset clause which will cause it to expire on January 1, 2019. 

Would you support renewal or expansion of SB57 if the costs prove to be manageable?

Alena Balmforth:   
Absolutely! In a state that has a much higher than normal rate of autism, we need to give the children a chance at a normal life and the only way to achieve any life changes is through therapy or other treatment. To deny or greatly limit insurance benefits for this disorder is unacceptable.

WanderingWandering (or elopement) is an issue that affects around half of children with ASD, as well as many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are substantial costs involved with search efforts that often require emergency personnel. There are also promising technologies, such as smartphones, GPS, and Bluetooth, which can help with tracking these individuals. 

 Would you support efforts to:
  • better understand the extent of the wandering problem in Utah
  • promote training for emergency personnel
  • identify technological solutions and help make them affordable for caregivers
Alena Balmforth 
Yes, I would support these efforts. As the number of cases of ASD and dementia have been increasing so rapidly, we must look at ways to insure a safe environment for these individuals.

Education: Education is a priority for many UAC members. Kids on the spectrum often require special education resources.

What do you see as the current state of the Utah education system, including Special Ed, and what steps would you support to improve it?

Alena Balmforth:   
Though I believe educators have been made aware of the concerns and needs of ASD children in our schools, more needs to be done. In our Utah schools where teachers are often expected to work with larger groups of students than the national average, it is difficult to find the time to give the individual ASD student the extra help needed. However, if we do not find the money to help students now, how will they be able to transition into society and be able to lead self sufficient lives? 

True, there are various degrees of this disorder and the needs are as different as the individuals, but without early intervention and assistance, the costs in the long run will be much worse than helping educate students now.

Housing and Employment: When autistic people transition out of the public school system, many of them need help with housing and employment. According to the 2013 Annual Report of the Utah Division of Services for People with Disabilities, Over 5,000 Utahns received services, and 80% of them had an intellectual disability. Another 1,892 Utahns are on the waiting list.

Would you support steps to improve housing and employment opportunities for individuals with autism?

Alena Balmforth:  
To have almost one third of Utahans with autism be on a waiting list for services is criminal. If we have individuals asking for help to lead productive lives, what are we waiting for? The ability to lead a self-sufficient life should be afforded anyone who is willing to do so.