Autistic Boy’s Parents Sue Ohio Health Department

Autistic Boy's Parents Sue Ohio Health Department (Image 1)

Parents of an autistic child on Thursday sued the Ohio Department of Health and others in federal court, alleging discrimination against Ohio’s autistic children by failing to provide what the lawsuit describes as federally mandated treatment.

Gary and Nikki Ruhl, of Mansfield, in northern Ohio, sued in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on behalf of their 3-year-old son. The lawsuit charges the health department and the coordinator of Ohio’s system that provides early intervention services aiding the development of children up to age 3 refused to provide necessary treatment. The complaint is similar to one recently settled in federal court in Cincinnati over an autistic boy in southwestern Ohio.

The Ruhls’ lawsuit alleges the health department and system coordinator Wendy Grove refused to provide intensive treatment known as applied behavioral analysis for their son and “all infants and toddlers with autism in Ohio.” It also alleges the state has denied funding for services to make up for the earlier lack of treatment.

“We know we can’t turn back the clock,” Nikki Ruhl said. “But we hope to help Weston going forward and make sure this doesn’t happen to other children.”

Grove’s office referred calls to the health department. Spokeswoman Melanie Amato said in email that the department has “no comment at this time pending litigation.”

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by symptoms including communication difficulties, emotional detachment and repetitive behavior. The attorney for the families in both lawsuits, Richard Ganulin, said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires states to provide early intervention services to autistic children. States get federal money to provide treatment aimed at helping autistic children develop into self-sufficient adults.

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Nikki Ruhl said requests to the state to evaluate their son also were repeatedly denied, and he was nearly 2 years old before a private hospital diagnosed him with autism.

“We knew the sooner he received treatment, the better, and each day that treatment was delayed harmed him in ways we will never know,” Ruhl said.

The Ruhls are seeking more than $500,000 for services to help their son achieve the development level they say he would have reached with earlier treatment. They also want unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The recently settled lawsuit in Cincinnati resulted in payment of more than $142,000 to Holly and Robert Young of Clermont County for their now 4-year-old son Roman. They sued the state health department and Clermont County’s board of developmental disabilities, alleging their son was repeatedly denied intensive therapy.

“We believe our case helped open the door for parents of other children to get help,” Holly Young said Thursday.

The health department declined to comment on that case.

The Clermont County board’s superintendent said the state paid most of the settlement.

“We had no liability to pay any money or provide this service, but we wanted to help the family” said superintendent Sharon Woodrow, adding the board had provided other services to them.

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