Autism still not covered under KSU benefits plan

Nicole Stempak

Autism benefits coverage was a cause late political science professor Gertrude “Trudy” Steuernagel fought in favor of for years.

Why this story matters to you

While Steuernagel fought hard for the university to cover autism benefits, officials say they don’t because there’s “no medical treatment.”

Steuernagel’s 18-year-old son, Sky Walker, was diagnosed with autism shortly before his 3rd birthday. Steuernagel died in early February, and Walker has been charged with her murder.

Steuernagel’s death has raised questions about the university’s benefits coverage for autism.

The university’s medical plan pays the fees to diagnose someone with autism but will not provide continuing treatment support.

Benefits manager Loretta Shields said the university’s coverage policy is not new and is standard medical practice for most businesses.

What is


Autism is a developmental disorder of brain functions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There is no cure, but early educational intervention may improve social development and reduce undesirable behaviors.

Overcoming obstacles

In tomorrow’s Stater, read one man’s story of his journey through life living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“There is no cure for it, so there is no medical treatment for them,” Shields said.

The university does not provide ongoing coverage because autism appears to present similar issues to those exhibited by individuals who are diagnosed with Down syndrome or other mental disabilities.

According to a letter in e-Inside by Willis Walker, vice president for human resources, treatments for all these conditions are not medical in nature but are primarily developmental issues relating to social and learning skills.

“There’s no pill for autism,” said Barbara Taub, an occupational therapist from Cleveland. “If there were, that would be wonderful.”

Instead, Taub said doctors can prescribe medication or treatment methods to treat the symptoms of the disorder.

“It’s more therapeutic,” she said. “For example, for people who have sleeping issues, you can prescribe sleeping pills.”

Shields said she did not know of a medication specifically for autism.

“The treatment might be for depression, and that would be covered,” she said. “It depends on what the diagnosis is.”

Still, Taub said the need for funding for autism research and treatment is a growing one.

“Some families have to explore alternate forms of therapy and will have to pay out of pocket,” she said. “It’s a huge, huge need, and it’s something that needs to be dealt with early on in their life.”

In light of Steuernagel’s death, Kent State’s human resources Web site now has a tab with autism resources for employees who have family members with autism. There are links and phone numbers for:

• The Psychological Clinic, part of the Department of Psychology, offers a Positive Parenting Program.

• The Autism Initiative for Research, Education and Outreach connects researchers, doctors and families to help support individuals with autism.

• IMPACT, the university’s employee assistance program, provides educational materials, resources and support group information for employees with an autistic family member.

The university will have its eighth annual Topics in Child Development Conference to address needs of people with autism. The conference will be June 25-26 at the Student Center. Registration can be completed by calling the Office of Continuing and Distance Education at 330-672-3100 or online at An itinerary can also be found online.

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].