As director of communications for Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, I’ve recently had an opportunity to coordinate volunteers to help renovate Erik’s Retreat, our facility in Edina, Minn. Volunteers help with some pretty physical and dirty work. People come from book clubs, high schools, corporations, and as friends of families who have children with autism. They take time out of their weekends to help scrape and level cement floors, scrub wallpaper paste off walls, pull tile from bathroom floors; you get the idea. But everyone who has volunteered is intrigued with our mission and vision, and is eager to help and learn more. That’s not the case with everyone.

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One high school student who volunteered with us a couple weeks ago has three cousins with autism. She told me that one cousin wasn’t allowed to be in the school picture because he couldn’t smile properly. I felt like crying. OK, maybe the teacher of the child with autism was narrow-minded and more concerned about appearances, but the high school students who volunteered that day were curious and eager to learn. During lunch we talked about what Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is, what we plan to do and why their volunteering was important. They asked pretty deep and thoughtful questions; lots of them. Unlike the teacher with the smile problem, these young people wanted to understand about autism and what Erik’s Ranch & Retreats means to adults with autism.


Other adult volunteers have been equally as interested, asking questions about symptoms and how we work with our Erik’s Minnesota Adventures tour guides. After asking several questions, one woman said, “Wow, I clearly have had some misperceptions about people with autism.”

These volunteers (we call the elbow-grease gangs) have not only offered valuable physical labor, but they have taken the time to learn about people with autism. They come away understanding that although autism is a set of disorders, people with autism are individuals with talents and abilities unique to themselves—just like everyone else.

Ignorance may be bliss, but in this day and age, it is easily dispelled. That’s what Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is doing. Instead of trying to make people with autism fit some arbitrary norm, we are working to expand the norm to fit the individual. How does that happen? So far, we have our riding program, Erik’s Minnesota Adventures and a vision that sees what individuals with autism can do, not what they cannot. Soon, we’ll have another way for many others to help expand the norm. Watch for it in the next blog. You will be able to get involved and join the fun.


Here is some really good news. Federal Court Strikes Down Blue Cross of Michigan’s Denial of Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy to Children with Autism.

Finally, I can sleep better at night knowing that the federal court has stepped up to the plate and called a spade a spade: “The court, noting that (Applied Behavioral Analysis) ABA therapy is supported by numerous authorities, and is not supported by Blue Cross’ own medical policy, held that Blue Cross’ denial of insurance coverage for this therapy on the ground that the therapy is experimental was arbitrary and capricious under federal law.”

Insurance companies have for too long held families captive by withholding from their children the assistance of a therapy that has decades of documented and proven results, and has been replicated around the world. It works. Because they have refused to pay for ABA therapy, children who might progress to normal or have improved symptoms are left bereft of the life and abilities that could be their own. They are left without the hope of a normal life. As a result, the cost to care for them once they become adults is astronomical and becomes the taxpayers’ responsibility. The annual cost to society of autism is $137 billion. The Autism Society cites estimates of $3.2 million for the lifetime costs of such care. Caring for an adult with autism in a supported residential setting can cost $50,000 to $100,000 per year.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way, and with 40 years of proven results, ABA offers hope and help to children from all walks of life. This video shows just a few instances of how ABA affected a handful of children in Minnesota. It must be made more widely available. Finally, with the backing of the federal court, we may see strides being made in serving the nearly one in 50 children who are now being diagnosed with autism.