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Autism Speaks Announces Launch of Legal Resource Center

June 04, 2013

NEW YORK (June 4, 2013) -- Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism advocacy and science organization, has formed the Autism Speaks Legal Resource Center (ASLRC) to help develop and protect the legal rights of people with autism. The initial focus of the ASLRC will be on ensuring access to effective autism treatment through enforcement of autism insurance reform and other private and public sources of coverage.

The new Center will serve as a resource center for the nation’s legal community involved in autism litigation and work with local and national advocates in ongoing or developing impact cases and legal advocacy. The Center may provide logistic support, coordination, legal advice and analysis, training and policy analysis, co-counseling in strategic cases and amicus (friend of the court) briefing. Although the ASLRC will not be equipped to respond to individual requests for representation, it will have as part of its mission, the development of a referral network of qualified attorneys who can provide these services. 

Visit us on the web at: http://www.autismspeaks.org/legal-resource-center

The Center is led by Dan Unumb, J.D., who has previously practiced with the U.S. Department of Justice and private law firms and most recently served as Director of Litigation for South Carolina Legal Services.  Unumb has extensive experience in autism law and is co-author of the law school casebook “Autism and the Law” with Lorri Unumb, J.D., vice president of state government affairs for Autism Speaks.

The Autism Speaks Legal Resource Center will strategically develop and enforce key legal precedents, organize and train attorneys, coordinate legal resources, and serve as a clearinghouse for legal information and assistance to attorneys, regulatory agencies, and providers. The Center will also work with the Bar and the judiciary to raise awareness of legal issues pertaining to autism and with policy groups, as well as executive and legislative personnel on legal reforms to address the public health crises posed by autism. 

Working with local advocates, Autism Speaks has helped manage the enactment of autism insurance reform laws now in effect in 33 states and assisted major employers in voluntarily offering coverage for autism benefits in their health plans. In Washington, Autism Speaks has worked to reform autism insurance coverage for military families and federal employees, the nation’s single largest workforce.

 “The new Autism Speaks Legal Resource Center will help protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of people with autism across America as the insurance reforms we fought so hard to achieve are now interpreted, implemented and enforced by the courts and regulatory agencies,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks’ executive vice president for programs and services. “This is a rapidly emerging area of law and people with autism and their loved ones need an advocate. Autism Speaks will play that role.”

Initially, The Center is now focusing on enforcing insurance reform laws, and securing access to medically necessary treatment by all including those on Medicaid, those in states without insurance reforms or with federally regulated insurance, and those to be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism now affects 1 in every 88 American children, including 1 of every 54 boys, and has risen 78 percent in 6 years. While the exact causes are unknown, researchers know that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. When diagnosed at an early age, many with autism can make significant advances through behavioral health treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis. But the insurance industry has routinely refused to cover the treatments, which can cost up to $60,000 a year, prompting the enactment of autism insurance reform laws to stop discrimination against people with autism.

"Ultimately, the Center will expand its work to address the myriad legal issues posed by autism. We too often have found a lack of understanding of autism within the legal system whether it involves health care or other issues, such as housing, family law, probate, employment, public benefits, and criminal law,” Bell said. “The new center will work to address that through judicial conferences and continuing legal education courses.”

Dan Unumb brings 25 years of experience in litigation, legal counsel, and autism law to the Center. He has practiced in federal and state courts throughout the country and at South Carolina Legal Services was responsible for planning, training, supervising, and conducting complex litigation, and developing comprehensive strategies, outreach programs, and targets for advocacy campaigns. He also has extensive experience working with national legal and disability rights organizations and conducting state and national conferences and trainings.

Dan received his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law and is a member of the Bar in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and South Carolina.