Ava Bullard is a star on stage. The 8-year-old is making strides after a diagnosis with limitations that are not destiny. Mom Anna Bullard realized at 12 months that Ava was struggling to communicate.
“Wasn’t walking, wasn’t talking, waving, raising her arms to be picked up, nothing you know, wouldn’t play with toys.”
Barely sleeping, Ava was taken hostage in her own body. Looking for light in a dark tunnel, Anna went to several doctors for answers, and finally at 2 1/2 years old, Ava was diagnosed with autism. Anna asked up front for information on therapy clinics.
“She said ma’am, that’s the Cadillac version. You’re never going to be able to afford that.”
The doctor told Anna her best choice would be to find a special education class for Ava because she would never be able to function in as a typical child.
“I said well, I guess you don’t know me.”
Ava’s therapy was always covered under insurance, but when doctors discovered her Autism, she was dropped. Determined to bring hope to Ava, the Bullard’s turned a room in their home into a therapy room, hired specialists, and gave Ava 40 hours of intense therapy a week. They exhausted their savings and even borrowed from family.
“We had to buy all the materials that a clinic would have. We didn’t have the money. We just put it on credit cards you know. There was just nothing else to do.”
A window of time opened a new world for Ava at $50,000 a year, the Bullard’s saw progress. Today Ava’s doing things she couldn’t do 5 years ago. The third grader is succeeding in a regular classroom. Her teacher, Rita Knight, is amazed.
“I’ve just challenged her like in her reading the math. She’s really ready for 4th grade work. I don’t think she will have any problems.”
“I have gone through changes. I’m older and I’m learning more and more. My favorite subject is Math cause I’m good at it,” says Ava.
Sacrifice prevented Autism from destroying Ava’s dreams and hopes.
“She was gone for so long. You could look in her eyes when she was 3, 4, 5 years old and she wasn’t there. Now she is.”
But this mom’s mission is far from over. She’s fighting to give the estimated 30,000 children in Georgia with Autism a chance to find their voice.
“I want every child with autism to be able to have the chance to be as successful as they can be.”
Anna’s made countless 3-hour road trips from her Lyons, Georgia home to the legislature since 2009. House Bill 309, named for Ava would require insurance companies to cover autism treatment. As it stands now, the expense is overwhelming.
“Some legislators have even said to me well, we could afford to pay for it.”
But that’s the Georgia way. We’re not here so that just the 1% can get the best. Not even the best. Let me rephrase that, can get fair treatment.”
Early intervention worked for Ava. The long term result- an independent life. Georgia is one of 18 states that does not require Autism coverage. Checking the 32 states that require Autism Insurance, including South Carolina, the coverage added an average 32 cents per person per month.
“It pays for up to $50,000 worth of treatment per year.”
After a powerful push, a handful of lawmakers showed compassion. Moments of hope, but in the end the Autism Bill never made it to the floor for a vote this year.
“It is personal. It affects families and children in Georgia, and I told families I will be here until it passes and I will.”
The Autism Bill was put in mandate committee and will get hearing next month.
As for Ava, she will turn 9 on May 25th. She told me she wants to be a fashion designer.