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January 2011



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First Published Saturday, 15 November 2008


SAN ANTONIO – When a child is sick, most parents think relief is as close as the doctor’s office.  But, many parents here tell us their children have been turned away by some medical professionals.  News 4’s Leslie Bohl Jones investigates why a certain diagnosis may be the reason doctors are turning these young patients away.

The newest numbers show one in every 150 children has this condition.  And because of that diagnosis, necessary medical care can be very difficult to find.

Little Kay wants to play like a typical two and a half year old, but her brain works differently than most children.

She has autism.  Autism is a neurological condition where she processes information differently than others.

An occupational therapist and a speech therapist help little Kay maximize her words and actions.  In addition to autism, she faces another common childhood problem.  One that keeps her up most hours of the day and night!

“There are other times for anywhere from an hour to two hours she just goes (gasp), and it’s extremely scary,” says Kay’s mom, Rebecca Ferrall.  “She is either not breathing or making funny noises or snoring, so she only sleeps a few hours a night.”

Kay’s tonsils need to come out.  Breathing and snoring make sleeping a challenge for her and her family.

Desperately looking to help her child rest, Rebecca found a reputable surgeon.  But she says she was stunned when the doctor flat out refused to perform the surgery.  The reason?  Kay’s autism.

“I was in shock,” says Rebecca.  “First of all, that he had made a comment as a doctor that ‘those autistics’ don’t drink well after surgery.  My 7-year-old had the surgery a year before so I know it’s all children who don’t drink well.”

Rebecca claims a second doctor also turned Kay away, because of her autism.

“I was very angry,” adds Rebecca.  “I just cried because it was something she needed so badly and they weren’t going to do it.  Just because of a label.”

Rebecca is not alone.

Maritza Craig has been there, too.  She has experienced the same bias against her autistic son, Emilio.

“The doctors really don’t want to deal with these special needs kids because the behavior,” says Maritza.  “So the easy way is to just deny [them].”

Psychologist Josue Gonzalez works with families impacted by autism.  “As parents we expect the fact that whatever our child needs, we will be able to find and the reality is very different,” he says.

When asked if he is surprised to hear that doctors have turned away autistic children as patients, Dr. Gonzalez says, “No, I am not surprised.  If anything, I think it identifies a much larger issue, which is that how it is that professionals should learn how to work with special needs children.”

It’s such a problem that Any Baby Can, an advocacy group for special needs children, had to put together a list of doctors and other professionals who will treat children with special needs.

“The issue is working toward developing programs identifying individuals who have such expertise and learning how to maximize those resources.  But it’s not sufficient.  We need more,” says Dr. Gonzalez.

After months of trying, Rebecca has found a surgeon who will remove Kay’s tonsils.  But first, she must undergo some testing and it may be months before Kay and her family get the rest they need.

Rebecca hopes raising awareness will help parents of all children.  “You are your child’s best advocate and never give up.”

News 4 did check with the Texas Medical Board which states a physician can refuse to treat any patient he or she chooses, except in the case of emergencies.  That is in accordance with the American Medical Association.

To see the list produced by Any Baby Can offering resources to parents of autistic children, click here. Advocates hope that list will only grow as awareness is raised.

You can also check out Respite Care’s website, a school for special needs children that is located north of downtown in the Monte Vista neighborhood.

VIDEO/SOURCE: http://www.woai.com/content/troubleshooters/story.aspx?content_id=53565605-c58a-4d62-995a-5b1281b7ed2b&rss=322

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