Children's Services at Risk
By Liza Interlandi Stewart
Guest Columnist - The Laguna Beach Independent
Rainy weather did not deter concerned families from gathering in front of the Irvine district office of Assemblyman Chuck DeVore on Friday, Feb. 6, to protest proposed cuts in state funding for services for children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Chanting "pass the budget" and waving signs urging legislators to act quickly to ensure that needed services for children with disabilities are preserved and without interruption, the parents and children lining the sidewalk drew honks and "thumbs up" signs from drivers of passing cars showing their support.
More than 60 children and adults from throughout South Orange County participated in the protest, which was organized by Behavioral Support Partnership, an organization that provides services to people with autism and other developmental disabilities. A delegation of parents and children from the group delivered handwritten messages to the assemblyman's staff from participants expressing their concerns about the potentially devastating impact on families like mine should there be an interruption of funding for vital behavioral and other services.
My six-year-old son Caden has autism. Without the help we receive from the vender that is contracted with the Regional Center of Orange County. our son would not be able to live at home with us. He has very aggressive behaviors and with the help from The Center of Behavior Sciences we have over come a lot of those behaviors.
When Caden was diagnosed, you can't imagine the feeling of devastation and loss. We were told to call a neurologist and the Regional Center of Orange County for help and information. The first voice I talked to at the Regional Center calmed my fears and scheduled an assessment team to come to our home. They came that very week and two weeks later an early intervention vendor came to our home and started working with our son. Within a week they had him using words and a few months later he was asking for juice and milk. Caden was twoyears old when they first started working with him and he now reads, uses the computer, helps me cook, does chores, sings, and plays games. All of this is due to the vendor contracted by the Regional Center of Orange County.
If I loose the help from The Center for Behavior Sciences my son's aggressive behaviors could increase and then he couldn't live at home with his family.
Right now, services for children like my son and the many thousands of Californians with developmental disabilities - including 57 residents of our Laguna Beach community alone, 41 of whom are children - are at risk on several fronts. (More children in Laguna Beach have received early interventions and now no longer require help from the center because they have been mainstreamed into the school and are leading normal lives.)
The state's projected $42 billion budget deficit has caused a cash flow problem that must be resolved by mid-February, or the agency through which the state funds these services - Regional Center of Orange County -- could run out of money and have to close its doors at the end of March. If the Regional Center closes, organizations like Behavioral Support Partnership, The Center for Behavior Sciences and hundreds of other service providers that work with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities will also have to close due to a lack of funds. Even if there is a solution to the cash-flow issue in time to avert the immediate crisis, massive funding cuts now being proposed also threaten our children's access to vital services.
One of 21 regional centers across California, Regional Center of Orange County is the local nonprofit organization through which the State of California funds services for Orange County residents with developmental disabilities and their families. In addition to autism, developmental disabilities include mental retardation, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The services and supports the Regional Center funds help people with developmental disabilities live safer, healthier lives in the community. They range from behavioral therapies for children with autism, to supported employment for adults with Down Syndrome, to early intervention therapies for very young children who have developmental delays or are atrisk for having a developmental disability. Included also are group homes and other residential care facilities as well as supported living options to help those with disabilities live as normal lives as possible in the community.
More events are planned by parents to keep our concerns in front of elected representatives. For more info visit the Regional Center of Orange County site at www.rcocdd.com.
Liza Interlandi Stewart, daughter of Phoebe Whipple and famed cartoonist Phil Interlandi, is a fourth generation Lagunan. Her son has received services from The Regional Center for more than four years. She and her husband own Stewarts Landscaping.