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Autism awareness month raises regional responsiveness
by Sarah Cooper
Apr 18, 2008 | 1645 views | 2 2 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Tony Contini</a> Tyler Richard, a child with autism, reads to his parents.
Tribune/Tony Contini Tyler Richard, a child with autism, reads to his parents.
Toni Richard is busy this month. Between caring for her 7-year-old autistic son, Tyler, and serving as president of the Reno Autism Information Network (RAIN), Richard serves on the board directors for the Autism Coalition of Nevada, works for the state's Medicaid commission and runs the Independent Living Autism Program.

Even as her time is stretched thin, Richard says her biggest struggle is getting children with autism the help that they need.

Throughout Autism Awareness Month in April, Richard has been fielding calls from parents looking for help.

"I tell parents to get connected then start talking to each other," Richard said. "We need to get out of the reactive and start getting proactive."

The first step for many parents is diagnosing their children, determining if they do in fact have autism.

No biological tests exist to diagnose autism, so parents must make the original diagnosis based on their child's behavior.

"It's not like you can do a blood test and say that your child has autism," Richard said.

An official diagnosis is only available in the Reno/Sparks area through the Washoe County School District or Early Intervention Services, according to Richard.

"Most pediatricians are not adept in (autism) diagnosis," Richard said.

The waiting list for diagnosis is extensive, Richard said. The list of local parents asking Richard for help getting a diagnosis has more than 30 names on it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2007 that found about 1 in 150 8-year-old children had some form of autism. The CDC estimates that up to 560,000 individuals under age 21 have autism.

In general, Richard said that children with the brain disorder may have trouble communicating, sleeping through the night and might avoid eye contact or resist changes in routine.

"Parents usually know," Richards said.

Once a child has been diagnosed, financial assistance becomes a major concern for many of the parents that Richard works with.

Most insurance providers have a mental illness clause that prohibits them from providing insurance benefits for autism treatment.

"Our next (challenge) is insurance reform," Richard said, adding that there are many bio-medical complications that go along with autism.

"A lot of people felt that (autism) was only behavioral," Kevin Richard, Tyler's father said. "If you are not taking care of the other stuff you are only solving half the problem."

Some of the other conditions that commonly accompany autism include gastro-intestinal problems, an array of allergies and higher chances of developing attention deficit disorders.

Richards, an American Sign Language teacher at Truckee Meadows Community College, first noticed that something was different about Tyler when she tried to teach him sign language as a baby.

"At 12 months he still wasn't signing," Richard said. In her experience, children usually had the ability to sign at least a little by that age. It was then that point that she knew something was wrong.

Since then, Richards has become an outspoken advocate for autism, serving on numerous committees. Her goal is to help parents know that help is available for autistic children.

"If you hit autism early and heavy our kids can make tremendous gains," she said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 11, 2008
yeah most definitely would
April 19, 2008
would have liked to see more pictures... wouldn't you all?
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