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Parents, Advocates Speak Out at Autism Town Hall

Families of Nevada children with autism say the waiting times for therapy are unacceptable and are pushing for sufficient funding in the state budget. (tangle eye/morguefile)
Families of Nevada children with autism say the waiting times for therapy are unacceptable and are pushing for sufficient funding in the state budget. (tangle eye/morguefile)
February 22, 2017

RENO, Nev. – Dozens of people concerned about losing services for their children with autism gathered Monday night at a town hall meeting in Reno.

They're worried that Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget proposal is short $9 million from the amount requested by the Aging and Disability Services Division to fund the Autism Treatment Assistance Program, known as A-tap.

Michelle Scott-Lewing, executive director of the Autism Coalition of Nevada, says A-tap already has a backlog, so the program needs its full funding request.

"Where we already have such a traffic jam now, putting it further out of our reach is obviously a concern," she said.

An estimated 7,000 Nevada children are diagnosed with autism, and more than 600 are stuck on a waiting list for treatment and services, due to a drastic shortage of registered behavioral therapists.

A second program through Medicaid also serves children with autism, although state officials admit only 94 of the 2,000 children who were supposed to be served over the past two years have received help.

In order to retain more therapists, Scott-Lewing suggests the state could increase their hourly pay rate and require them to commit to at least a year of service as part of their certification.

"We need to simplify the process and expedite it because that waiting period is critical," she added. "Six months of waiting for a child with autism is six months lost to their brain neuroplasticity, where they could have been receiving the therapy that they need and making progress."

Another town hall meeting is set for March 7 in Las Vegas. And on April 4, Autism Awareness Day at the Nevada Legislature, families and advocates hope to testify on this subject at a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV