Autism Speaks | Microsoft: Innovating in Response to Autism | Jan. 15, 2014 #AutisticHistory #BanABA


[Note: Shared for #AutisticHistory archive purposes. This is NOT An Autistic Ally.]

Microsoft: Innovating in Response to Autism

January 15, 2014

REDMOND, WA (January 16, 2014) — Since its founding in 1975, Microsoft has been associated with dramatic innovations in computer software and devices that have fundamentally reshaped how the world works, plays and communicates. Less well known has been the company’s innovative response to autism.

In 1999, the incidence of autism was estimated to be 1 in 500 children. Insurance companies routinely denied any coverage for the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of autism. Public awareness and funding for research were virtually nil.

Yet it was in 1999, that Microsoft started getting actively involved in the nation’s budding autism epidemic. Microsoft employee Jon Rosenberg and seven other employees raising kids with autism approached the company’s benefits staff about a promising therapy, applied behavior analysis (ABA), that was yielding positive results treating children with autism. The therapy involves intensive one-on-one treatment and could cost $60,000 a year or more, a crippling financial burden without insurance coverage.

Because Microsoft, like most major employers, self-funds its health benefits plan, it was governed under federal ERISA law which does not require ABA coverage. Microsoft, nevertheless, began examining ABA and whether it should voluntarily add coverage for its employees.

“We developed a partnership with the University of Washington Autism Center in 2000, and after the benefit was designed and finalized, we added it to our plan in January of 2001,” said Julie Sheehy, Microsoft’s director of health & wellness. “The fact that we had the University of Washington Autism Center on our doorstep really allowed us to work with a partner with deep expertise, which enabled us to develop an innovative, effective and viable benefit program in an area where few others had gone before.”

Dozens of major employers across the U.S. have since followed Microsoft’s lead, including many in the high-tech sector, including Apple, Intel, Cisco Systems, Oracle and, most recently, Qualcomm. Rosenberg and his fellow Microsoft employees, known affectionately as the “Gang of Eight,” helped open a new front in the autism insurance campaign which is delivering critical benefits to more and more families around the nation.

“Recent research showing the efficacy of early, intensive ABA therapy supported Microsoft’s decision to cover this therapy back in 2001,” said Sheehy. “Based on our dialogue with families of children with autism and the research showing the positive impact of ABA Therapy, we also hoped that this benefit would have a positive impact on employee engagement and retention.”

Microsoft’s Decision to Cover an Emerging Autism Therapy Helped Transform a Family’s Life

avatar of danhubDaniel Hubbell – MSFT

January 15, 2014

The following blog post was written by Paul Nyhan, a staff writer with the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. Paul is a 20-year journalism veteran who has written extensively about disability issues.


Fourteen years ago, Jon Rosenberg was struggling to raise his son. Diagnosed with severe autism, seven-year-old Brian screamed, cried for hours, bit himself and couldn’t tell his parents when he was tired or hungry.

Looking for support, the Microsoft program manager was talking with other parents at the company with children on the autism spectrum. They were all trying a relatively new treatment, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and it was the only thing that seemed to help their kids. Some children stopped hurting themselves, and a few who never uttered a word began to speak. Even the most severely impacted children made progress.

As incredible as the therapy could be, it was also extremely expensive, as much as $60,000 a year, which usually came out of a parent’s pocket because it was not typically covered under health insurance plans. So, Rosenberg and seven other parents joined forces and asked Microsoft to cover ABA treatments under its health and wellness benefits.

After more than a year of review Microsoft agreed, becoming one of the first companies in the country to cover ABA therapy and helping to set an example for others about how to include the still-emerging treatment in a corporate benefits package.

Today, a growing number of companies are covering the treatment, and more states are requiring coverage.

“I think this was a great lighthouse example for the industry,” Rosenberg said.

Microsoft’s emergence as a leader in autism coverage was a carefully researched move.

After hearing from the group of parents, known affectionately as the Gang of Eight around the company, Microsoft worked with the University of Washington Autism Center on the possibility of an ABA benefit. Together, the company and university developed a benefit that relied on the center’s years of experience treating children with ABA.

“The fact that we had the University of Washington Autism Center on our doorstep really allowed us to work with a partner with deep expertise, which enabled us to develop an innovative, effective and viable benefit program in an area where few others had gone before,” said Julie Sheehy, Microsoft’s Director of Health & Wellness.

Over the years, Microsoft’s ABA benefit has changed, as more was learned about both the therapy and autism in general. The company will continue to listen to its employees as it strives to improve it and all of its benefits.

Microsoft’s decision’s to cover Applied Behavior Analysis was not simply an act of corporate responsibility by company known for providing industry-leading benefits. Employees would be more productive.

When a child has autism, it can consume a family. Sleepless nights, for parents and their child, outbursts, regular visits to the emergency room and the sometimes overwhelming stress of coping with a disorder without a known cause or clear cure can take an enormous toll on an employee.

“Microsoft recognized how completely this sort of condition at home could consume its employees,” Jon Rosenberg said.

Today, Rosenberg’s family life is far calmer, thanks in no small measure to the fact that they could continue Applied Behavior Analysis because of the Microsoft benefit. With the therapy, Brian Rosenberg learned critical life skills, and as importantly how to advocate for himself.

Autism can rob a person of basic authority over life. But today Brian can get a drink of water or a book he wants to read, seemingly small steps that exemplify how ABA has given him far greater control over his own life.

“None of this would have been possible without giving him some of the basic tools” through ABA therapy, Rosenberg added. “It has just totally, totally, transformed our life as a family.”

(Stephanie Rowland contributed to this story.)

The Autism Community Is Not The Autistic Community

* The “autism community” is not the Autistic Community. The autism community was created by non-Autistic led organizations and includes mostly parents, professionals and their friends. Most of what the world knows about autism is sourced from the non-Autistic “autism community.”


Autistic people have fought the inclusion of ABA in therapy for us since before Autism Speaks, and other non-Autistic-led autism organizations, started lobbying legislation to get it covered by insurances and Medicaid. 

ABA is a myth originally sold to parents that it would keep their Autistic child out of an institution. Today, parents are told that with early intervention therapy their child will either be less Autistic or no longer Autistic by elementary school, and can be mainstreamed in typical education classes. ABA is very expensive to pay out of pocket. Essentially, Autism Speaks has justified the big price tag up front will offset the overall burden on resources for an Autistic’s lifetime. The recommendation for this therapy is 40 hours a week for children and toddlers.

The original study that showed the success rate of ABA to be at 50% has never been replicated. In fact, the study of ABA by United States Department of Defense was denounced as a failure. Not just once, but multiple times. Simply stated: ABA doesn’t workIn study after repeated study: ABA (conversion therapy) doesn’t work. 

What more recent studies do show: Autistics who experienced ABA therapy are at high risk to develop PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions. Historically, the autism organizations promoting ABA as a cure or solution have silenced Autistic advocates’ opposition. ABA is also known as gay conversion therapy.

The ‘cure’ for Autistics not born yet is the prevention of birth. 

The ‘cure’ is a choice to terminate a pregnancy based on ‘autism risk.’ The cure is abortion. This is the same ‘cure’ society has for Down Syndrome. 

This is eugenics 2021. Instead of killing Autistics and disabled children in gas chambers or ‘mercy killings’ like in Aktion T4, it’ll happen at the doctor’s office, quietly, one Autistic baby at a time. Different approaches yes, but still eugenics and the extinction of an entire minority group of people.

Fact: You can’t cure Autistics from being Autistic.

Fact: You can’t recover an Autistic from being Autistic.

Fact: You can groom an Autistic to mask and hide their traits. Somewhat. … however, this comes at the expense of the Autistic child, promotes Autistic Burnout (this should not be confused with typical burnout, Autistic Burnout can kill Autistics), and places the Autistic child at high risk for PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions.

[Note: Autism is NOT a disease, but a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.]

Fact: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.

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