Toward the end of 2015, Kat Oliver and her friend Lauren Simoneaux chatted over a happy hour. Less than a month later, the two would become co-founders of The Blue Autism Project, a Dallas area nonprofit dedicated to helping children and families affected by autism.
Like many nonprofits, the Blue Autism Project exists to raise funding and awareness. However, Kat, Lauren and their team are on a specific mission to help cover the cost of therapy for children with autism. Lauren’s nephew is autistic and Kat’s wife is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, so both co-founders were already well aware of the costs associated with the therapy families needed.
“I was like, ‘Hey, there’s got to be something we can do to help. This is ridiculously expensive and a lot of insurances don’t cover it even though it is absolutely necessary,’” Kat said. “That’s where it came from. We started looking things up and putting it together.”
According to Autism Speaks, a national autism advocacy organization, autism costs families an estimated $60,000 per year. This cost is due to lost wages of one or both parents from an added caretaking demand, but the bulk of this incurs from special services such as therapy. According to the CDC, in addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with autism cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year. That’s only an average figure, and very subjective to which therapies the child may need and how much the family’s insurance will cover.
Kat estimates that families with a child who is going to full time therapy could pay up to $145,000, annually. Some kids, on top of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy will go to occupational therapy or speech therapy.
“We want to alleviate financial burden because that seems to be the biggest thing that families have to deal with,” Kat said. “There are different stories that we hear from parents who had to quit their jobs, so they only had one income because they needed someone to stay home with the child full time, but then that child needs therapy and they couldn’t afford it with one income.”
While a large part of the nonprofit’s mission is to offset the cost of therapy, Blue Autism Project also organizes a variety of social outings for children with autism. The organization sponsors “jump days” at Jump Street, in indoor trampoline park. It’s free for the kids, all they have to do is register and they get to jump during a sensory-friendly time. Additionally, the Blue Autism Project gives camp sponsorships to a therapy center in the DFW area. The camps run for six weeks and are designed to teach social and life skills for children with autism.
Kat runs the nonprofit in addition to her full-time job as the Dallas/Fort Worth regional director for Infinity Consulting. Between attending the social outings they arrange for children with autism, fundraisers for the nonprofit and breaking company records for office openings, Kat has her hands full. But she’s used to it. She graduated from Baylor in 2011 in three years. During that time, she double majored in business management and real estate and earned a minor in photography.
“I’m a constant learner,” Kat said. “I never thought I was really good at school. I was terrible at tests, but I loved learning and I wanted to apply it. I think all of it has come full circle and I still use all of it.”