New initiatives could make Columbus more autism-friendly - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

New initiatives could make Columbus more autism-friendly

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Keeping thousands of people with special needs safe and at home is becoming a top priority for local authorities in Columbus. 

Initiatives are rolling in this week with good timing as Thursday, April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day. 

"Columbus is a little behind the times, we need to do more," said Diane Pope, President of the Columbus Autism Hope Center.

Staff at the Autism Hope Center are working to make the Chattahoochee Valley better cater to the more than 2,000 people with some form of autism in the Fountain City.

This week, the Georgia House passed Ava's Law, a bill requiring insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders. 

"People don't realize that there really is no funding for services for autism," Pope said.

Pope explained it's something that might ease daily finances for affected families. 

"Which is one of the reasons we supported Ava's Law to get therapy for children with autism paid for by insurance companies because it's just too expensive for parents to do," Pope said. 

However, some say the fine print of the law reveals the state of Georgia still has a lot further to go.

"The biggest problem is it only covers up to age six and so many of our children locally aren't diagnosed till six or seven," Pope said.

The Muscogee County Sheriff's Office is working to do their part to help by launching Project Lifesaver this weekend. It's a program that includes GPS tracking bracelets that could keep loved ones with special needs safe at home.

"Persons out there you know, with certain disabilities, Autism diseases, have a tendency to wander off from their families and this gives us the opportunity to get right out there and get a jump on finding them pretty quick," said Deputy Jeffrey Hackey. "Nobody wakes up that morning expecting their child's gonna wander off."

The bracelets cost a family $345 for the first year and $75 a year, each year after that. The Muscogee County Sheriff's office is collecting money to help ease those costs to local families. They will launch Project Lifesaver this Saturday at Woodruff Park in Uptown.

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