Casualties, Natural

Champion of coverage for autism therapy dies

At age 11, although he could not read, write or talk, Matthew Jankovich became the smiling face of a legislative crusade.

In 2014, the Legislature made Nebraska the 36th state to require some health insurers to cover treatment of autism such as Matthew’s. For years he and his Omaha family campaigned for the law, which his mother, Colleen, said this week was “the proudest thing I’ve ever done other than bring my babies into the world.” Matthew left the world Monday. He was 13.

He died in his sleep of a seizure, his mother said, even though a recently implanted vagus nerve stimulator had seemed to be controlling the epilepsy that accompanied his autism. She added that his autism symptoms — constant motion, occasional self-injury, impulsive behavior such as bolting through open doors — had improved in recent years.

She said the law that Matthew championed never helped him because it exempts self-funded insurance plans such as those common among large companies, including Verizon, the company where Matthew’s father, Jared, works.

The hope, said Colleen Jankovich, is that the law will lead to intensive therapy for more kids with autism, especially early in life.

“If we can save one child, it’s worth it,” she said in April 2014, just before the measure passed. “It can make these children more productive in society.” The therapy can cost $50,000 a year, but about half the children who get it early can achieve normal intelligence levels and attend regular school classes, advocates said at the time.

The senator who sponsored the bill, Colby Coash of Lincoln, said in a statement that Matthew “taught us to use our voices and to remember the importance of seeing the world through a different lens.” He was “a rare glimpse into unspoken enthusiasm, love and compassion. … I am a better person for having met Matthew.”

Matthew J. Jankovich was born in Omaha on June 19, 2002, and not until he was about 18 months old did delays in his language and behavior begin to appear, his mother said. An autism diagnosis was made at about age 2.

“He loved roller coasters and jumping on the trampoline. And swimming,” she said. Although he couldn’t talk, he was outgoing. He enjoyed being with his family, he liked to watch Husker football “and he loved his church,” she said.

Survivors, besides his parents, include brothers J.T. and Zachary, a sister, Ella, grandparents Terry and Marilyn Brennan and John and Monika Jankovich, and a caretaker and best friend Eboni Hill.

A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Friday in St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 15050 West Maple Road.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1140,

He was “a rare glimpse into unspoken enthusiasm, love and compassion. … I am a better person for having met Matthew.”

Colby Coash, Lincoln state senator who sponsored 2014 bill

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