Nev. autism programs rebound, await governor's OK


Associated Press

Posted on June 9, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 11 at 9:06 AM

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Shannon Springer said she was in panic mode when she heard earlier in the year that Nevada's autism treatment programs were on the chopping block in Gov. Brian Sandoval's original round of draconian budget cuts.

The Sparks resident was relying on state funding to hire a tutor for her 11-year-old daughter, Joy, who suffers from severe autism.

"I really probably would have left this state," said Springer, who estimates Joy's treatments cost about $50,000 a year. "Why stay in a state when they're saying they don't care about my kid, which is really their future?"

But after an active campaign among families with autistic children that included phone calls to legislators and regular, emotional visits to Carson City hearings, the tide turned.

Sandoval promised more money to autism mid-session. By Thursday, two bi-partisan bills creating a more efficient new program, and a $4 million funding bill that nearly doubles Sandoval's original autism budget proposal, awaited the governor's signature.

"I'm so happy they reinstated it," Springer said. "It would have been devastating to the state."

The new program allocates about $2 million each of the next two years to serve 134 children, up from the 83 originally provided for in the budget.

Officials say another 174 children are served under a separate program that is being phased out.

Early treatment for children with autism is critical to keep a child's IQ from regressing, according to Jan Crandy, who sits on the Nevada Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Several teens with autism testified during legislative hearings, telling lawmakers how they lead normal lives, participating in Boy Scouts and extracurricular activities, after intensive therapy during their younger years.

Springer said the personal testimonies — both from parents with squealing, untreated children and from well-adjusted high schoolers — were an effective part of the campaign to show lawmakers the value of funding autism programs.

"It will cost the state millions for one kid to be in an institution," Springer said. "We're trying to save the state money."

Autism advocates say they're grateful that the program fared well, but worry the money won't satisfy a rapid growth in autism diagnoses. About 350 autistic children are on a state program waiting list.

And the autism funding boost comes as other programs for people with disabilities must downsize.

"I'm saddened for the other mental health cuts that took place. It's going to be hard for them to move forward," Crandy said. "We are lucky — and we are very grateful."