Mother says cuts would jeopardize autism therapy

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Sabina Childers counts on music therapy and in-home visits from the Southeast Missouri Autism Project to help her 2 1/2-year-old son.

But Childers' son, Larry, might soon lose such help. Gov. Bob Holden has proposed cutting state funding for five state autism projects, including one that serves 265 families in Southeast Missouri.

The governor has proposed cutting funding from $4.5 million to $500,000 in the Mental Health Department budget.

Childers said, "We have a woman who comes here and works with my son once a week for 30 minutes or so." That's important with autistic children because they suffer from a developmental disorder characterized by self-absorption and severe social, communication and behavioral problems.

"My son is very hyper," she said. "It was probably last August before I could get him to sit down long enough to stack three blocks."

Her son has just started taking music therapy at the project office in Cape Girardeau.

"In the past year, he has made a lot of progress," she said, but that progress could be jeopardized by cuts in state funding.

The central, southwest and Southeast projects are run through the private, non-profit Judevine Center in St. Louis, which receives state funding. The other two projects, in St. Louis and Kansas City, are run by other groups.

Sonia O'Donnell, deputy director of outreach services for the Judevine Center, runs the Southeast, central and southwest projects that served about 1,300 families last year. The proposed funding cut would leave perhaps $100,000 to serve autistic people and their families in 92 counties in the three regions of the state, O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell said a focus of the state-funded projects is to train parents to cope with their autistic children.

O'Donnell hopes lawmakers will use money in the state's Rainy Day Fund to restore some of the funding for the autism projects.

335-6611, extension 123

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