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Lawsuit aims to stop autism rule change

By Zac Taylor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The leader of a state autism group has sued a state agency over a rule that forces certified behavior analysts to work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist -- a change that has allegedly devastated the analysts' ability to provide services to autistic children.

Jill Scarbro-McLaury, an analyst and chairwoman of the state chapter of Autism Speaks, alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday that members of the West Virginia Board of Examiners of Psychologists held an illegal meeting earlier this year to institute the change. She says the change essentially forces patients to pay for the services of both the analyst and the overseeing psychologist.

Certified behavior analysts generally help autistic children gain learning skills that will help them be independent later in life, according to the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

"A situation constituting an immediate threat to public safety has come to the attention of the West Virginia Board of Examiners of Psychologists," board members wrote when they changed the rule.

The board mandated the rule change in order to "make certain that Certified Behavior Analysts are under the regulation of the WV Board of Examiners of Psychologists," according to a petition the members filed with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

 "There is a relatively small, but most likely soon to increase, group of individuals engaging in the practice of psychology who are not licensed and who do not meet the minimum education and training requirements for licensure," the petition states.

Fully certified behavior analysts must hold at least a master's degree from an accredited university in behavior analysis, natural science, education, engineering, medicine or a related field. Certified assistant behavior analysts may hold a bachelors degree, according to www.bacb.com.

Prospective analysts must also take hundreds of hours of additional training before they become eligible for certification, which is administered by the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board.

The petition filed by the Board of Examiners is not clear on the certification the reported unlicensed analysts do not have that is causing "a situation constituting an immediate threat to public safety ... "

Phone calls placed to the homes of several of the agency's board members were not returned. The board's executive director, and its attorney were not available late Monday.

On May 26, the board held an telephone meeting to discuss an "emergency rule" listed on the agenda, which the lawsuit claims was not released in at least two days in advance - as required by state law.

In the notice that the meeting was to be held, which was released about a week before May 26, the board members did not give any indication that a rule to regulate the practices of certified behavior analysts would be discussed, the suit states.

The members voted to send the petition to Tennant, who signed the proposal. The change went into effect on July 10.

As a result, according to Scarbro-McLaury's lawsuit, she "has faced significant burdens and restrictions on her ability to provide services to her clients, leaving some without urgently needed therapeutic care for autism."

The suit seeks to enjoin the board's alleged non-compliance with the state Open Governmental Proceedings Act and annul the board members' petition filed with Tennant.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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