Local News

Program to help autistic kids, families in the works

SEBRING - The Children’s Services Council has endorsed the creation of a program to help autistic children and their families, and a local foundation will soon decide whether to administer and fund it. Jennifer Lipowski, who owns My School, Academy of Early Learning, hopes to connect parents with autistic children with the support and resources they need, help with respite care and non-medical related expenses. Lipowski came up with the idea after her encounters with the challenges autistic children and her families at her daycare facility. Wednesday, at a council meeting, she gave the example of one mother with two autistic children.
Her 18-month-old boy was doing well after the one-on-one care he was receiving at her daycare, Lipowski said, but the mother couldn’t afford it anymore. “She had no support. Definitely no support. No money,” Lipowski said. The Centers For Disease Control defines autism spectrum disorders as a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Council board members talked about how families are often in denial their kids are autistic, how many kids are not diagnosed early enough and the strains the kids’ disability can place on their parents’ marriages. Council Executive Director Jeff Roth talked about the severe behavioral problems autism can lead to. “It is a developmental disability,” he added, not just a kid acting out. Sheriff Susan Benton said her deputies often get called by parents struggling to deal with their kids. “They don’t tell us the kids are autistic,” she said. She asked about a database for autistic kids, much like the one law enforcement has on Alzheimer’s patients, so deputies can be alerted when they run their names. Lipowski said she didn’t know of one. “A lot of them are undiagnosed,” she said. Champion for Children Foundation CEO Kevin Roberts said he is going to bring up the program before his foundation board members at their next meeting. Should the foundation make it one of its initiatives, one of the first things they’ll do is print 1,000 rack cards to get the word out. Lipowski said they are also hoping to hold luncheon fundraisers. Roberts has been involved with child welfare issues for a while and said it was the first time the foundation was looking at an autism-related project. According to statistics Lipowski shared with the group, one in 88 kids in the United States has been identified with autism and one out of 54 boys is autistic. There is no cure and only 5 percent of the money is spent on research, she said. “It’s a sickness,” said board member Ruth Handley. “It’s not a disgrace.”


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