Gov. Greg Abbott signs bill licensing autism treatment specialists

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Specialists who treat children with autism in Texas will soon be required to obtain licenses after Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed an amended version of Senate Bill 589.

The bill, by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, will require licenses for applied behavior analysts, therapists most known for their work with children with autism. After easily passing the Senate on May 1, the bill swiftly passed the House on May 23 before heading to Abbott’s desk.

Supporters said Texas needed to join the ranks of the more than 25 other states requiring licenses for the profession.

Legislators “understood the importance of this licensure law,” said Dorothea Lerman, director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and president of the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis. “I know they heard from a lot of families and professionals who were in support of having this protection for families with special needs.”

The bill’s amendments changed the oversight agency to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation from the Texas Medical Board. Some language and standards regarding the TDLR were also changed or added.

Psychologists and other licensed professionals who work in schools raised concern regarding the scope of the bill, but that has mostly been quieted by an exemption it includes for practitioners with their own licensure requirements. Some lawmakers have also voiced skepticism about having another medical profession regulated. 

Applied behavior analysis is recognized by researchers and the autism community as a highly effective method of treatment. It breaks down weaknesses into small goals and rewards children for each goal completed. Treatment can require up to 40 hours per week of one-on-one therapy and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. About 40 behavior analysis facilities in Texas signed a petition in favor of the bill.

There are about 1,300 behavior analysts in Texas certified by the national Behavior Analysts Certification Board, which requires at least a master’s degree from a credible behavior analysis program at a university, along with field work and other requirements. But people with little to no experience have legally been able to practice because licenses haven’t been mandated.

Two years ago, a licensure bill passed the full House before stalling in the Senate. Stakeholders had pushed the bill through the Senate first this go-around since it already had proven support in the House. Their bet worked.

“This bill will make sure behavior analysts meet the standards in Texas. We have had a very positive reaction from parents,” said Kate Johnson-Patagoc, director of specialized services at the Texana Center, an autism treatment facility in Rosenberg and Sugar Land. “Many parents helped us with this bill. This will help raise the bar so that practitioners in Texas will meet high standards and have more positive outcomes for children and adults that benefit from behavior analysts.”

The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

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