More employers pursuing autism benefits

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Parents of children on the autism spectrum often need help finding reliable caregivers, accessing certified therapists, and learning how to best communicate with their children — in addition to a host of other needs.

That’s why Rethink Benefits, a cognitive care firm based in New York’s Flatiron district, offers services such as these to employers including Microsoft, Amazon, AOL, and Viacom to help employees cope with these burdensome challenges.

According to Mike Civello, VP of benefits at Rethink Benefits employers know that a subset of their employees need help for their children on the autism spectrum and those who have developmental delays or learning disabilities.

“There’s definitely increased demand on employees who are struggling with the gaps in their child’s care, and employers are really starting to get their heads around this issue,” he says. This has led to increased scrutiny and growth in providing support and additional resources for parents, he says.

Rethink Benefits offers an e-learning-style platform that teaches parents how to teach their special needs and verbally-challenged child. Rethink trains parents how to teach the child to communicate via flash cards or pointing to pictures on an iPad. “He or she can indicate to the parent simple things like, ‘I'm hungry’ or ‘I'd like this specific toy’ or ‘I'd like to go outside,’” says Civello.

Autistic children will most likely have been prescribed these services, such as Applied Behavioral Analytics or ABA, but Rethink aims at helping the parents communicate with their children.

“A lot of parents don’t know how to do that,” Civello says. “They might be working with a therapist but the therapist is focused on the child specifically.”

The benefit provider also provides on-demand access for parents to speak with a board certified behavior analyst via phone, e-mail or video chat. While they are not delivering therapy to the child, parents can speak with BCBAs to review the child’s current developmental levels, specific learning strategies and their IEP.

And it’s not just technology firms that are pursuing these benefits, major retailers such as Costco, Lowes, Nordstrom, REI and Zappos have also hired Rethink. “In retail, every hour missed typically for most employees is an hour unpaid,” Civello says.

One client is financial technology firm Inuit, which offers Rethink to its employees around the globe. Although around 70 Intuit employees have signed up for Rethink, that is 80% of Intuit employees and their families that would qualify for the benefit, says Sarah Lecuna, global benefits leader at Intuit.

“Because this program is global, countries that have limited to no support for children with special needs are now able to access expert advice and consult with experts at any time,” says Lecuna. She says employee response has ranged from “relief to life changing, and an overall feeling that Intuit truly looks out for our employees and their families.”

Intuit also partners with Cognition Builders, a firm that works with adults and children with developmental delays to help them devise daily routines and gain greater independence through life-skill planning.

“Intuit also matches up to $650 into the dependent care flex spending account to help parents with the cost of childcare and camp aids. By the end of the summer, we will also have added equine and music therapy to our medical plans, and will be expanding our well-being reimbursement to cover tracking devices and respite care,” says Lecuna.

Rethink does not offer legal services for parents of special needs children such as wills, legal guardianship, or post-school and adult care. Likewise, it does not promote therapies that claim to cure Autism. Instead, Rethink aims to take parents down what it calls “an actionable path” for their special needs child.

“Parents blame themselves. They always feel like they’re not doing enough and we tell them you’re doing enough,” Civello says. “There can be progress made. There’s a lot of things that your child
is capable of that you probably don't know yet and we're going to work on that with you.”

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