Mother of autistic children struggling to find help after bill is killed

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WATERTOWN, S.D. (KSFY) - On Wednesday, a bill that would mandate autism coverage in South Dakota was killed in committee. Many families in the state have been cut off of receiving certain therapies through insurance for their children with autism.

Heather Thomas is the mother of two children who have autism and one of them has it more severe than the other.

We brought you the story of Alexis Spaniol back in 2016 when her father Joshua Spaniol was sentenced to 60 years in prison for raping Alexis.

She was just four-years-old, she's now nine.

"October 14th of 2014 my ex-husband Josh Spaniol confessed to our local police department that he had raped our daughter Alexis on at least four separate occasions," Alexis’ mom, Heather Thomas said.

Alexis was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and at that time she was non-verbal so she couldn't tell anyone what was happening to her. She now remembers more than ever the pain and trauma it’s caused her along with uncontrollable behaviors.

Her mother Heather is now speaking out on how this is affecting their everyday life.

"Today’s youth that are diagnosed with mental disabilities or delays or children on the spectrum disorder these therapies they need they require to be become functioning members of society," Thomas said.

Alexis isn't able to receive the treatment like applied behavioral analysis therapy to help her learn everyday things or how to communicate in a social environment around other children her age. Without this treatment Heather says...

"My daughter is the school bully, my daughter doesn't have friends."

"Let's not let more kids fall through the cracks and become another statistic like my greatest fear is going to happen to my kid," Thomas said.

Heather said Alexis has been in therapy since she was diagnosed to learn things normal kids do, but at the drop of a dime her therapy went from three days a week to not having therapy at all.

"And all of that can be avoided so simply if the care could just be provided for families like mine for children like mine," Thomas added.

And without ABA therapy to deal with the autism and additional counseling to deal with the rape trauma Alexis is at a standstill in her development. The family was able to get a support dog named Quinn to help get through her toughest days.

Heather tells me through a program that allows Alexis to have a support animal they were supposed to provide service dog training, but after getting the dog the cost of training was denied.

Heather tells KSFY News that she's been working really hard for the past five years to get her family back on track.