More than a decade before they can vote, Keeli Burton and her first grade classmates at Rosa Parks Elementary School have already exercised their civic duty, asking state legislators to rally for autism insurance parity.
On Thursday, Rep. Larry Springer and Rep. Roger Goodman, both Democrats from the 45th District, visited the school in the Redmond Ridge neighborhood to show their support.
Keeli’s four-year-old brother, Paul, is autistic. Keeli wrote a letter about him to Sen. Eric Oemig (Democrat, 45th District). Oemig posted her letter on his Web site. www.voteeric.com/blog/?p=32%C2%A0
Next, Keeli and her peers wrote to Goodman and Springer. Keeli implored, “We want you to help kids with autism … get money from insurance people. They need your help so they have good living and understanding brains. I love Paul and want him to have a good life. I want every autistic person to have a good helper and good response and love.”
To help educate Keeli’s class about autism, teacher Nyla Nordvik and Keeli’s mom, Cindi Burton, introduced a book called “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome” by Kathy Hoopmann.
Asperger’s Syndrome is an autistic spectrum disorder. Not all people on the spectrum have the same traits. But common markers include an insistence on sameness or resistance to change and difficulties with social interaction and sensory integration.
“Cats don’t like loud noises. They are more solo than social and they like familiar routines,” Cindi pointed out.
The same is true for many people with autistic spectrum disorders. For instance, “Paul doesn’t like the loud ringing of the telephone and other sounds such as toilets flushing or loud, deep voices,” said his home therapist, Kristin Boyd. And he doesn’t like sudden changes, his mom added.
Autism’s cause is unknown. But early intervention can make a dramatic difference in an autistic individual’s ability to adapt and thrive in his or her environment.
And the Lake Washington School District serves an unusually large autistic spectrum population, Rosa Parks Principal Jeff Newport stated.
In many cases, you wouldn’t guess that the student has a disability. Physically, they look the same as other kids. But their behaviors may strike others as “quirky” or “weird.” They struggle to fit in and to maintain their composure in stressful situations.
Newport said he recently received a very touching letter from a parent whose son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and benefited from a form of therapy called ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). The family’s insurance provider wouldn’t pay for it and they mortgaged their house to raise $50,000 for his therapy.
This student “is doing spectacularly now. The family wouldn’t change a thing — they would do it all over again,” Newport emphasized.
Yet he, like countless other educators and parents, is dismayed that therapy for autistic children is grossly underfunded or simply not covered by most medical insurance providers.
Springer, a former teacher, agreed: “The numbers (of children with autism) we run into are staggering.”
In a question-and-answer session, a first-grader asked Springer, “How many people have you met with autism?” He replied, “Wow, almost 40 or 50 by now.” He added that this happened randomly, in the course of ringing doorbells while campaigning.
“How do you help people with autism?,” another child asked. Springer said, “You start by trying your best to understand what they think and what those families face every day. Mostly, in legislation, we raise money to help families pay for services they need.”
Another question was, “Does it really matter that we write to you?” Goodman noted that he had been carrying the students’ compassionate letters around with him for two months, showing them to other people in the community and asking for their thoughts.
“Yes, it really does make a difference,” Goodman promised.
You can make a difference, too.
To contact Larry Springer, call (425) 739-1806 in Kirkland or (360) 786-7822 in Olympia; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Roger Goodman, call (425) 739-1810 in Kirkland or (360) 768-7878 in Olympia; or e-mail email@example.com.
To learn about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, visit www.autism-society.org.