As a life-long equestrian, I know that a successful rider must learn all forms of communication, including the ability to anticipate reactions to sudden changes and the ability to communicate directions non verbally. But because April is Autism Awareness month, I have been thinking how my "barn friend" Nicole applies these skills to a far more noble cause. Nicole is a special education teacher at Easter Seals Therapeutic Day School, with about 6 students on the autism spectrum. Her students vary in abilities and challenges, but she reads the situation and guides them gently. She knows that TS’s meltdowns are triggered if the lights are too bright. She knows that LH doesn’t verbally speak, but has a passion for reading. But with Nicole's knowledge and empathy, each student is reaching new goals. They may be traditional school goals like reading or more basic life skills. One of the student's moms recently credited Nicole for their relaxing family vacation: Nicole had helped her student master the skills needed to sit at a restaurant and wait patiently for the food to arrive, something that many people take for granted.
On April 3rd, the State cut autism funding, threatening the support for programs like Nicole's and supports for the children and families at Easter Seals and others across the State. While the funding has now been restored, its future remains uncertain, teetering precariously as the State tries to solve a budget deficit of over $5 billion. The headlines would sometimes have us believe that solving the State's fiscal crisis is simply a matter of eliminating corruption and cutting so-called "non-essential" services. But there is nothing "non-essential" in the services provided to children with autism nor many of the other services on the chopping block.
We owe it to all our unsung heroes -- teachers like Nicole-- as well as our most vulnerable children and families to ask our elected officials to adopt a responsible budget for all.