Autism Bills Would Take Children Off Waiting Lists

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Testifying before the Nevada
Legislature on funding for autism services was a herculean effort
Wednesday for Reno mother Sherrie Olson.

Her 2-year-old son A.J., wearing a Superman T-shirt, screamed
and writhed in her arms. He tried to run out of the hearing room
and ride the elevators up and down. He didn't speak or listen to
the people around him.

It's just an ordinary day for a parent of a child with autism.

"It's the best feeling ever when you get hugs from him rather
than just screaming," Olson said.

Nevada legislators Wednesday heard three bills that would rework
the state's autism services and replenish funding at the same time
federal money and state general funds are drying up.

Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury, R-Las Vegas, co-sponsored AB315, which would create a single umbrella for the state's three existing autism assistance programs. AB316 would establish a standardized screening system that would allow the state to determine how many Nevadans have autism.

James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, is co-sponsoring AB345, which
would make a $1.5 million appropriation to fund autism programs. A
budget committee would have to approve the extra money even if the
bill passes the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee
because the funding is not included in Gov. Brian Sandoval's
proposed budget.

The three existing state funding streams support about 398
children, and at least 349 children are on the waiting list. If
AB345 passes, all the children on the waiting list will receive
services.

Parents whose children are on the waiting list testified that
their children suffer and regress as long as they don't receive
treatment. Autistic children who get treatment at a young age,
however, can become functioning adults.

One 16-year-old boy with autism testified Wednesday that his IQ
score was in the 70s when he was a child. Now an articulate high
school student in Las Vegas, he was appointed the historian of his
Boy Scout Troop and is close to achieving his Eagle Scout rank.

Olson has been trying every therapy she can - and drained much
of her personal pocketbook - while A.J. has been on the waiting
list. The medical problems that accompany his autism complicate the
situation.

"We had to choose between paying his hospital bills and his
therapy bills," Olson said.

A.J. was accepted to the state autism treatment assistance
program a few weeks ago, but Olson described the emotional roller
coaster of not knowing whether the funds would come through to keep
the program in place.

She pleaded with legislators to help families like hers cope
with the constant battle of a toddler with autism. With help, she
said, A.J. might someday be able to point or say a few words rather
than communicating by biting her.

"It's extremely hard. It's exhausting," said Olson, whose
youngest son is not autistic. "But I'm grateful each day for both
of my children, and there's nothing more rewarding than having
them."


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