By Rachel Wells
Mary Kay Betz, a director at the Autism Society of Illinois, was once told that her son Riley would never speak. Today, he read a speech in front of lawmakers, advocates and reporters as he worked to encourage awareness during Autism Lobby Day.
“If I hadn’t received the services I did at the time, my life would probably be very different,” 9-year-old Riley Betz said. “Because the programs were funded when I was smaller, I was given a chance.” But he also pointed to the state’s current financial climate is leading to providers no longer receiving timely paychecks and cuts to services.
All the while, autism rates are rising.
“When we first started coming and talking about this, about four or five years ago, we were quoting statistics as one out of 150 children is on some form of the [autism] spectrum,” said Rep. Patti Bellock, a Westmont Republican. “I’m sorry to say that that is now one in 110.”
The challenge going forward, Bellock said, would be to ensure that autistic children still have support when they become adults. She said the state needed to start exploring ways to make that happen.
“Between insurance coverage, between educational programs, early intervention programs, early diagnosis, these are all key to making this condition a livable condition,” said Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni, whose daughter is autistic. While he doesn’t expect any further action until after the election, DiCianni is helping push Senate Bill 3106, which would allow voters to remove limits on property taxes for special education.
Addressing the budget question, Glen Ellyn Republican Rep. Sandra Pihos said lawmakers have not received answers to their questions and called for a review of state contract efficiency. “Unless we can wrap our arms around actual figures, I don’t know how we solve the budget problem.”
Lawmakers also called for constituents to voice their concerns to their representatives and senators, including the four legislative leaders.
“It is April 28 today, and we are scheduled to be out on May 7, and we have not had 30 seconds of a debate on our budget,” Pihos said. “So this is where I say we need [parents' and advocates’] help to get that debate moving forward.”