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Lawmakers Unite to Support Autism-Therapy Fraud Bill

Not only would autistic kids benefit, supporters say, but their families and state taxpayers, too.

After Kimberly Graham's son was diagnosed with autism, she found some solace and hope for improving his life in the person of Stacy Lore, a behavioral therapist who appeared to be not only competent, but wanted to help and was worth the high fees she charged.

"We put our trust, life savings, and newly autism-diagnosed son in the care of an impersonating board certified behavior analyst (BCBA)," Graham said about the therapist in Norwalk who faked her credentials to get lucrative work serving autistic children and who was later convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison.

"For over a year, fake therapist Stacy Lore gave my son incorrect and damaging behavioral therapy," Graham said during a news conference held Monday at Stepping Stones Museum. Graham and other area parents spoke at the event in order to promote a proposed law that would create penalties for those who fraudulently claim to be board certified and who primarily treat children with autism.

Graham and the other parents who spoke at the event said children need effective therapy at a certain early period of their lives when autistic children are open to it. Getting bad therapy at that period is even "worse than no therapy," said Margaret Busteck of Norwalk.

"Inappropriate therapy magnifies the symptoms of autism," Graham said. "A child receiving incorrect, damaging therapy will not function in our society."

"Our son developed erratic behavior, and his speech became robotic and scripted," she said. "Stacy was responsible for our son's rehabiitation in the most critical developmental time in his life. Her inability to deliver effective therapy has potentially destroyed our son's chance of recovery."

Senate Bill 799 would make it a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a $500 fine to represent oneself as a board-certified behavior analyst primarily for the treatment of children with autism. Each patient contact or consultation would be considered a separate offense under the bill.

State Sen. Bob Duff, a Norwalk Democrat, along with state Rep. Larry Cafero, a Norwalk Republican and minority leader in the state House of Representatives, and state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, all spoke at the event to show their support for the bill. With bipartisan support from such high-ranking legislators as Looney and Cafero, Duff said, the bill has an excellent chance of passing.

Looney said the bill would toughen the penalties for fraudulent behavior in a way that would have behavioral therapists for autism treated by the state in a similar way to the state's treatment of health-care professionals in other fields.

Cafero said that in Lore's case, she was convicted of larceny charges sufficient enough to put her in prison upon conviction, a situation that may not always apply in other cases unless the proposal is made law.

Cafero pointed out that parents who find they have autistic children are desperate to seek help with something about which they themselves have little or no knowledge, and that makes them especially vulnerable to fraudsters claiming to be therapists. 

"When you're thrust into the world of autism, it's a strange, new world," said Margaret Busteck of Norwalk. "When Stacy first came into our lives, we felt she was a dream come true."

If the legislative proposal had been law earlier, it might have frightened people like Lore away from the idea of faking their credentials, Busteck said, "and my son would not have been cheated out of his window of opportunity."

Supraja Krishna of Norwalk also spoke at the event, pointing out, as she put it in an interview afterward, that for parents whose first language is not English, it can be difficult to monitor how well services are being provided to their autistic children. Filtering out fraudsters in the behavioral therapy field, she said, "is so important for all the parents who don't speak Engish fluently."

The legislators and parents at the news conference stressed the advantage of having the law as a humanitarian measure to help those with autism, as well as their families. But another reason to pass the law, some pointed out, was that it could also save the state money down the road because children who are successfully treated won't need as much support from the state later in their lives. Duff said there was no projected additional cost to the state for enforcing the new law.

"When you give a child with autism an appropriate education at a young age, when their window of opportunity to learn is so great, then you give that child an opportunity to live an independent life, someday," said Maria Dominici of Weston, whose daughter was treated by Lore for 18 months.

Suzanna Pollak February 15, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Families who are facing an autism diagnosis deserve to feel confidant that they can rely on the available professionals for support. I'm glad to hear that lawmakers are prioritizing this concern and that there is a law on the table that aims to prevent criminals from faking their credentials and taking advantage of families who are already in such a vulnerable situation.
Philip February 15, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Wow ! Talk about GRANDSTANDING ! Why don't they hold a press conference to say "They are against drunk driving !" Give me some REAL news !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bryan Meek February 15, 2011 at 04:07 PM
I guess fraud was legal before this. What does this do to close the $4 billion gap?
Philip February 15, 2011 at 05:31 PM
You got that right ! While we get blind-sided by these political self-puff pieces; Moccia, Cafero, Malloy, and Duff amongst other insiders prepare new tax increases that will punish all of us, not excluding the working-poor in an effort to keep this over-fed, beauracracy with premium health and retirement benefits, and out-of-touch with the private sector salaries. Vote them out A.S.A.P.
David Gurliacci (Editor) February 15, 2011 at 11:14 PM
The people at that news conference made a point about saving tax money: They said that if you make it more likely that the right treatment is given to children with autism at the right time, you'll have more taxpayers and fewer people needing state help in the future. I don't know if that is true or not, but it was a point they made. Ounce of prevention kind of thing. They also said that it was more difficult to prosecute without a law like this. It had something to do with the money the defendant received -- perhaps she had received so much that the offense rose to a higher order of larceny that typically carries a prison sentence or longer prison sentence, but I don't know.
Bryan Meek February 15, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Thanks for stressing those points. Anyone can reasonably support a bill that has zero tolerance for this type of crime. But claims about saving money down the road seem like a stretch. Certified teachers don't guarantee anything, why should certified counselors? Still there are fraud statues and neither will work without a well funded enforcement and corrections mechanism. Hopefully the focus intensifies shortly.
Brinasa February 16, 2011 at 03:31 AM
And I wonder. How can I know if someone is certified as an Autism Therapist. I mean with Doctors they do have their credentials up front at their offices, but therapist sometimes attend you at home. And how would I recognize a legal certification.. does any one has that info around here?

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