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Governor signs autism tax deduction bill

Autism bill
Jul. 01, 2009 @ 02:07 PM

New law encourages families to start trust fund for children

HUNTINGTON -- Parents of autistic children were given a little peace of mind Tuesday after Gov. Joe Manchin signed into law a bill that would provide a tax deduction for such families.

Families can get the deduction by creating a trust fund to help when children with autism spectrum disorders become adults. Manchin signed the bill at Marshall University Tuesday afternoon.

Autism is perhaps the most commonly known of the autism spectrum disorders -- developmental disabilities that impair social interaction and communication and cause unusual behaviors and interests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wally Aman, a dad from Barboursville, has had to quit his job to care for his twin sons. Both were diagnosed with autism about six months ago, leaving his family's life in disarray.

"It all started when they were 18 or 19 months old," he said, describing how they hit all the development milestones up to that point. "Then there was two months where it all fell apart."

Aman's wife, Tamra, is a family physician, so they still are able to live within their means. But medical bills from constant therapy still add up.

"Yes, the tax (deduction) will help us," he said. "We're very appreciative. It's a wonderful start."

The bill was signed at Marshall because it houses the state's Autism Training Center, which was established in 1983 by legislation.

The executive director, Dr. Barbara Becker-Cottrill, said the center, which also has satellite offices in Fairmont and Weirton, serves about 1,450 families. Many, she said, will benefit greatly from the bill.

"I truly think this is a new opportunity for families," she said.

"No family should have to hear the word 'autism' and have to figure out what that means all by themselves," she said. "There's constant worry for parents for when their children reach adulthood."

Becker-Cottrill likened it to families who put money away for a college fund. Some with autism may not be able to attend college, so this new law provides them the chance to have that savings account, she said.

Many advocates have said not enough services or funding exists for people with autism once they graduate from their county school systems.

Attending the bill signing were House Speaker Rick Thompson, Delegates Carol Miller, Jim Morgan and Don Perdue. Delegate Mark Hunt, who spearheaded the legislation, also was there. He is the father of an autistic child and knew a bill of this nature would make an impact.

On a grander scale, this new law makes West Virginia the first state to pass an autism tax deduction. Manchin said that despite a tight budget, he couldn't help but support the bill.

"In these difficult times, we're being very careful and cautious to live within our means," Manchin said. "With the financial challenges, it would be easy to make excuses why you can't do something. But you have to make priorities. If you have compassion, you can find a way to do it."

The governor also indicated that the state may look at families of children with Down syndrome and other learning disabilities.

"Everybody has something to give," Manchin said. "Every child. And that's what we're working, and that's the bill we're signing today."

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