Without any insurance coverage, therapy can cost a staggering $100,000 per year. Imagine A Way is funding the treatment for families that can’t afford it.
By Jordan Burnham, Photos courtesy of Carolyn Price
Joshua Price loves video games. He travels, most recently with his grandfather. If you know him, you might not realize he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 1/2. And it might not occur to you that already in his young life, he has received years of costly therapy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which encompasses a radius of conditions that affect social skills, communication, behavior and speech.
After Joshua Price was diagnosed with autism, his mother, Carolyn Price, quickly learned to navigate the new diagnosis.
“You feel completely helpless. And the thing that matters to you most in the world is your child and your family, and you’re just sitting like, ‘I can’t do anything. I can’t fix this situation,’ ” she says.
Carolyn Price says a doctor told her to immediately get her son into therapy following his diagnosis. Therapy, which often includes speech and occupational treatments, as well as applied behavior analysis, or ABA, plays a critical role in providing children with autism the opportunity to flourish.
However, the Price family rapidly discovered the reality of the high price tag attached to an autism diagnosis. According to data provided by autism-focused nonprofit Imagine A Way, without any insurance coverage, 20 hours a week of ABA therapy and two hours each of speech and occupational therapy a week can cost a staggering $100,000 per year. Even with insurance coverage for certain therapy services, a family can still face a cost of $5,000 to $25,000 per year to treat a child with autism.
The Prices were able to get their son’s therapy services covered through insurance after some time, and Carolyn Price says she saw stellar progress as he continued the therapy.
“Once your child’s diagnosed, the only thing you can do is get them therapy and do it early, as early as you can possibly get them into therapy,” she says.
She recalls a conversation with her husband, Joel Price, in which he shared about a routine trip to the therapist’s office with their son. Joel Price, who often waited for hours as Joshua Price underwent therapy each week, was sitting in the waiting room and overheard a phone conversation between a receptionist and an unknown caller. The woman on the phone had been prescribed therapy for her child after he was diagnosed with autism. Unlike the Price family, she was uninsured and had no means to pay for the costly therapy sessions her child desperately needed.
“So, basically, they were turned away because they didn’t have access to funds,” Carolyn Price says.
Such a moment in the waiting room seems devoid of hope, but it was not the end of the story. The scene Joel Price observed became a catalyst for abounding hope in the lives of families affected by autism. While the Prices were able to fund their son’s therapy services, they realized many families could not do the same.
After receiving support from friends, the Prices founded Austin-based Imagine A Way, beginning their philanthropic efforts by financially supporting one child through his therapy. Eight years later, the organization has supported 45 children who live with autism and currently supports 26 children. The nonprofit sponsors therapy, including ABA, speech and occupational treatments, until therapy is no longer needed or until the sponsor child turns 7. Each child is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the necessary therapy.
“The idea is that it’s families that are in this community raising funds for families that are in this community,” Carolyn Price says.
When Imagine A Way sponsors a child, the group helps fund needed therapy to families in the Austin area whose insurance may not cover all the costs of necessary therapy or who may be uninsured.
Tears swell in Carolyn Price’s eyes as she speaks of the impact she has been able to see through Imagine A Way. She’s seen personal and emotional relief— and not an insignificant amount of progress in the children of Imagine A Way.
Moving forward, she says the organization intends to continue fundraising for families in the Austin area but is also looking to expand to another community.
For Amy Hamand, program director for Imagine A Way, the organization changed her life. When Hamand’s daughter was diagnosed with autism, she could not afford to pay the nearly $45,000 required for ABA therapy. When Imagine A Way stepped in to fund that therapy, Hamand says she felt amazed that people were willing to help in that capacity.
“To put into words what therapy has done for Mara is difficult,” Hamand says.
Before, her family could not leave the house. Now, young Mara Hamand regularly communicates her wants and needs. Her story is one of many that were transformed by Imagine A Way.
“Imagine A Way,” Amy Hamand says, “gives families something they often enter the program without: hope.”