In Memory of Muhammed and Feda Almaliti
By Judith Ursitti | September 29, 2020
Feda and Muhammed Almaliti, two beloved members of the autism community, died tragically in an accidental house fire over the weekend.
After Muhammed was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, his speech, occupational and behavioral therapies were consistently denied by the family’s health insurer, one of the largest plans in California. After two years of fighting these denials, Feda took her case to California’s Department of Managed Healthcare, pursuing an independent medical review (IMR). Her eventual victory at the state level resulted not only in Muhammed’s access to medically necessary care, but also in a movement to require state-regulated health plans in California to cover evidence-based interventions for people diagnosed with autism. California’s SB 946 passed in 2011, making it the 28th state to implement meaningful autism insurance reform legislation. Coverage for Medicaid-enrolled children with autism followed a few years later.
Through the years, Feda’s autism-related advocacy took her to Sacramento and even to Washington, D.C. for Autism Speaks Hill Day. Her warmth, dedication and candor charmed legislators and community members alike. She served as Director of Outreach for the Mental Health & Autism Insurance Project and was a founding member of the National Council on Severe Autism, where she served as Vice President.
Most recently she was interviewed by NPR, speaking to the realities of being quarantined with Muhammed during the pandemic:
We desperately need extra help to get through this. And I firmly believe that autism support workers, aides, their teachers and caregivers are as essential as nurses and doctors and should be given the same accommodations. People don't understand that for our families, caregivers are our first responders. Special needs schools are our hospitals. Our teachers are our ventilators. And we can't do this without them.
Muhammed was 15 years old and loved Dora the Explorer videos and swimming. He utilized an augmentative and alternative communication device to communicate. In the words of his mother, he was “a sun-shiny...autistic boy, with his big smile, bigger hugs and that mischievous sparkle in his eye.”