Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stop California Budget Cuts from Hurting Our Children

It wasn't too long ago that I began to openly blog about our family's autism. In my post, The Autism Secret, I wrote about how we first came to experience the disorder and how early intervention was the most significant step we've taken on our journey so far. I don't even have words for what our entire family has gained from the critical resources we've received through the North LA Country Regional Center; a private, non-profit organization providing services and support to persons with developmental disabilities and their families.

From 20 months until he turned three, Jacob attended weekly speech and occupational therapy, along with a parent/child social group. We had no idea at the time there would eventually be an autism diagnosis, we just knew our child needed extra help. When we started, Jacob had an extremely difficult time communicating. His speech was limited, he struggled to transition from one activity to another and spent most of his time avoiding eye contact, withdrawing from other people, opting to play with cars and work on puzzles independently.

When Jacob did start talking, he would strategically use books and movies to convey his feelings instead of using spontaneous language. He would quietly retreat during social events and close his eyes and block out the world when feeling overwhelmed. I remember feeling paralyzed with fear, worried that if, God forbid, someone tried to grab him, he would never fight back but, instead, silently hide within.

In April of last year, we returned to the regional center. Desperate to find answers, we pushed for a complete evaluation. It was the NLACRC who contracted the psychologist who would ultimately diagnose Jacob with Autism, opening up a whole new world of resources. Since September, our entire family has grown tremendously through education, support and fourteen hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). Not only has Jacob made incredible progress, focusing on first-time listening, social skills and appropriate behavior, Jeff and I have been taught new skills and techniques that help in parenting all of our kids.

But in the coming weeks, all of that could be ripped away from us. California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a 750 million dollar cut in special needs services -- that's 40% of the total budget. If these cuts are approved, the negative impact would be immediate, wiping out companies that provide crucial resources for children. In some other states, autism spectrum disorders are covered by insurance. In California, regional center services are all some families have in order to get help. 

Here's the thing: Losing services for our son would be extremely upsetting. But being proactive and open minded parents -- someway, somehow -- we would find a way to get help.

But if I think back to 2005, when we were first introduced to the regional center, it terrifies me to think of how things would've gone had we not gotten early intervention for Jacob. I can't imagine he'd be the happy kid he is today, keeping up with his work and making friends in a general education first grade class. Forget about the after school enrichment classes he loves so much -- without the skills he's obtained through therapy and hard work, my son has so many opportunities he would otherwise miss out on. 

And I can say that without services, I, absolutely and without question, would be a different mother, much less able to let my son spread his wings and try to fly.

Take yesterday, for example. I finally gave in and let Jacob and his friends out at school using the carpool drop off. As I pulled out of the line, I quickly parked the car and walked alongside the school and stood in a quiet spot, secretly watching him navigate this new world. With a backpack over his shoulders, he bounced down the sidewalk with a pep in his step that can only be created by an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. There was no denying that my baby boy, the one who would crumble when the slightest break in routine would occur, was ready for the world... empowered and proud of the strong, expressive, affectionate 6-year-old he had become. 

I stood by the fence as my eyes welled up with tears. We couldn't have done this alone. I only hope no one about to embark on a similar journey will have to.

If those of you without a special needs child think for a minute that you can ignore this potentially devastating decision won't affect you -- think again. 

I know there are people who disagree, frustrated that their tax dollars go to help families like mine. But ignoring the needs of these children will not only hurt our families, but every single person who comes in contact with them. Without help, families of typically developed children will suffer as much as those with special needs. Because who do you think will struggle to get their needs met in the classroom when another child is monopolizing the teacher's time? And who exactly do you think will have to experience behavioral problems on the playground when a child hasn't been provided the tools to behave appropriately. To fight the funding of special needs programs now, it will cost you so much more down the line when these kids can't function in today's world. 

I ask you all to please help. Call, write, email or Facebook California legislators today and STOP Governor Brown's enormous tax cuts. Children with special needs, and their families, are relying on you. I have addressed letters completed already - click here to copy and create your own letter!

Senate Budget Subcommittee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Send a message via Web
Chair, Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Email him! 

Chair, Assembly Budget Subcommittee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Contact Holly
Bob Blumenfield (click on name for Website - click "contact us")
Chair, Assembly Budget Committee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

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