State lawmakers and autism advocates are proposing measures to protect autistic children from people such as Stacy Lore, the woman convicted of misrepresenting herself as an autism therapist.
On Monday, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk; Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven; and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, announced legislation that would crack down on people who falsify credentials to treat children with autism. They were joined by parents and autism advocacy groups.
The proposed bill would make it illegal to falsely claim certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, a Florida-based national nonprofit corporation that certifies the qualifications of professionals who have been trained and passed exams in behavior analysis and treatment for autism spectrum disorders.
Under the proposed Connecticut law, the penalty for this criminal offense would be as much as five years in prison and a fine of up to $500, with each instance of patient contact or consultation constituting a separate offense. If passed, the penalties would apply for fraudulently posing as a speech, occupational or physical therapist. The bill awaits a hearing in the Public Health committee.
“The purpose of the bill is to close the loop and ensure that state is much more specific about cases like Stacy Lore,” said Duff. “Through this legislation, we are sending a message that the long arm of the law is going to protect these kids.” Lore had pleaded guilty to larceny, fraud and misrepresenting her credentials.
“Because of Stacy Lore, my son lost a critical window of opportunity,” says Kim Graham whose son was a preschooler treated by Lore in Norwalk. Graham, who attended the news conference, said that correct autism therapy from 2 to 5 is critical. “The right type of therapy can drastically improve autistic behavior and bad therapy is worse than no therapy.”
Stacy Lore of Carmel, N.Y., was sentenced last year to three years in prison for larceny for falsely claiming to have advanced degrees and certification to provide autism therapy. Lore, whose education consisted of a GED, ran a Norwalk-based business called Spectrum Kids that billed Norwalk and Weston school systems for more than $400,000.
Suzanne Letso, president of CEO of the Connecticut Center for Child Development who spoke in support of the bill, says ideally there should be state licensure for autism therapists. She said, however, that licensing would require money and time. “This bill is proactive and can be put in place immediately. It lays the groundwork for future legislation.” Although the number of autism cases in the state and across the country is increasing, Letso says autism services have not been well regulated. “It’s been the Wild West.”
As well as being a deterrent to potential fraud, this new law would encourage more people to become certified, Letso said. “We need good people who are qualified.”
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