COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—Parents of autistic children in South Carolina are asking state lawmakers to increase the state’s Medicaid budget that provides autism therapy. Parents, children, and advocates rallied Wednesday at the Statehouse and held signs as state senators came into the Statehouse Wednesday.

Kim Macikowski, of Summerville, is the mother of 5-year-old Raelyn, who’s been getting that therapy for two years. She says the difference it has made is amazing. “She can be in a room and not be disruptive to a big group of people,” she says. “It has changed our lives tremendously to see what she has become, and if she didn’t have it she wouldn’t be anywhere near where she is currently.”

The problem is that South Carolina pays providers the lowest rate in the nation for that therapy. South Carolina reimburses providers $14.48 an hour for that therapy, compared to $50 in North Carolina. Because of that, South Carolina has a lot fewer professionals who provide that therapy, known as Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. Since there aren’t as many providers, South Carolina has a waiting list of about 1,500 children who need the therapy and can’t get it.

One of them is eight-year-old Emerson Sloop of Columbia. Her mother, Shana, says if Emerson doesn’t get that therapy, “She would be completely reliant upon me for the rest of her life, that without it she would not able to have a job or be able to do things that everyone else does or do things that everyone wants their children to do.”

She’s been on a waiting list for five-and-a-half years.

Kim Macikowski says, “It’s not fair that there’s so many children out there that don’t have it, and early intervention is key; they have to have it early to really get the benefit of the ABA therapy.”

Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, says they’re asking for lawmakers to add at least $10 million to the state budget to increase the reimbursements, which would mean more providers offering that therapy. While it’s difficult to get lawmakers to go along with a budget increase when there are so many things competing for that money, Rep. Smith says it costs the state up to $2.4 million for lifelong care for each child who doesn’t receive the therapy. “The reality is the cost of not spending that money is costing our state far more,” he says.

The House adopted its version of the state budget early Wednesday morning and it did not contain the additional money, so advocates are hoping the Senate will add it.

Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, says he’ll fight for every dollar he can. His 19-year-old twin sons were born prematurely and were diagnosed with autism. “My wife decided to leave her career teaching school and stay home with our children and see that they got the early intervention and therapies that they need. Does it work? I’m proud to say yes, it works. Both of my sons, through tremendous effort on their part and through early intervention and all the therapists and all the help we received, graduated high school summa cum laude,” he says.