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Episode #139: Autism and Insurance Coverage – A Discussion with Lorri Unumb

My guest today, Lorri Unumb needs no introduction. Lorri is a mother of three, an autism mom, a lawyer, an autism advocate, and an absolute dynamo in the field. Be sure to check out her long list of achievements in the guest bio for this episode!

We are talking about something so important and impactful for families everywhere who have an autism diagnosis: insurance. In 2003, when Lorri’s youngest, Ryan, was diagnosed, ABA was not a covered treatment, even though it was evidence based and crucial to his opportunity to reach his highest potential. Full time ABA therapy for Ryan’s needs would run $70,000+ annually. And they weren’t the only family dealing with this.  

While Lorri’s family could make it work, paying full price for therapy was not ideal, and for some families, this would simply not be possible. So in 2005, she got to work writing a bill that would require insurance coverage for all evidence based autism treatments, including ABA. And after a 2 year journey, what became known as “Ryan’s Law” was passed in 2007. Autism Speaks reached out to employ Lorri, and she then spent the next decade replicating this law across the country, finally passing it in the 50th state in 2019.

Lorri also shares about her role in the Council for Autism Service Providers, a collaborative organization of providers working and learning together from across the country. And as an autism mom herself, she has some great advice for parents facing a new diagnosis: “It gets better”.

#autism #speechtherapy

Today’s Guest:

Lorri Shealy Unumb, Esq. (pronounced YOU-numb)
Chief Executive Officer, The Council of Autism Service Providers
Lorri Shealy Unumb is a lawyer, professional speaker, law professor, mother of three young adult boys, and an internationally renowned autism advocate.

She began her legal career clerking for a United States District Judge in Charleston, South Carolina, and then moved to Washington, D.C. to practice law with the United States Department of Justice. She enjoyed a fulfilling career as an appellate litigator, arguing civil cases in Circuit Courts all over the United States.

After working as a law professor at law schools in D.C. (George Washington University) and Charleston, Lorri began running and teaching advocacy courses at the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Advocacy Center. During the same period, she hosted an award-winning weekly cable TV show called “The Law with Professor Lorri.”

Following her firstborn son’s diagnosis with autism, Lorri began working in autism advocacy as a volunteer, writing ground-breaking autism insurance legislation for South Carolina (“Ryan’s Law”) that passed in 2007 and served as the catalyst for the national movement toward autism insurance reform. In recognition of Ryan’s Law, Lorri was awarded the Autism Society of America 2008 “Parents of the Year” award (along with her husband Dan). She then was recruited by the New York-based nonprofit Autism Speaks to advocate full-time on behalf of individuals with autism.

Alongside her career with Autism Speaks, in 2010 Lorri founded the Autism Academy of South Carolina, a non-profit, year-round diagnostic and treatment center for individuals with autism; in 2019, the board of directors voted to rename the academy “The Unumb Center for Neurodevelopment” in honor of Lorri & Dan’s extensive national contributions in the autism field. Lorri & Dan also wrote the first-ever comprehensive textbook on legal issues related to autism, called “Autism and the Law.” Additionally, Lorri is in her 17th year of organizing and conducting the annual “Autism Law Summit,” a national gathering of parents and professionals who advocate for legal and policy changes to better the lives of individuals with autism. Finally, in 2018, Lorri was appointed by the governor of South Carolina to serve as a Commissioner for the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, which administers several of the state’s Medicaid waivers.

In 2019, Lorri was recruited by the nonprofit trade association The Council of Autism Service Providers; as CEO, she has led the association into a period of rapid growth, increased visibility, and international expansion.

For her local, national, and international advocacy efforts, Lorri has been recognized with

  • the 2012 NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian of the Year Award;
  • the Jefferson Award for Public Service (Charleston, SC);
  • the Professional Women in Advocacy “Excellence in a State Campaign” 2014 Award; and
  • the Civitan International “World Citizenship” 2021 Award.

Her work has been profiled on CNN, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and in Town & Country magazine, from whom she received one of three 2009 “Women Who Make a Difference” awards. She is also profiled in the American Academy of Pediatrics book “Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs to Know.”

Lorri is a magna cum laude/Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of South Carolina (Journalism, 1990; Political Science 1990; Law 1993).

What’s Inside:

  • How insurance for autism treatment has changed in the last 20 years.
  • What is Ryan’s Law?
  • The impact of high costs and uncovered autism treatment for families.
  • What is the Council of Autism Service Providers?
  • Advice for autism parents.

Mentioned In This Episode

Council of Autism Service Providers
The Autism Law Summit
—Learn more about the ABA SPEECH Connection CEU Membership and Joint Attention on September 12th at 8-9pm eastern ( and September 13th at 8-9pm eastern. (​

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