I-Team: Autistic Children Face Education Hurdles - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Autistic Children Face Education Hurdles

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LAS VEGAS -- About 4,000 students in the Clark County School District have been diagnosed with some form of autism, a developmental disorder characterized by social, communication and behavioral challenges.

In the coming weeks, the state Department of Education is expected to decide how the district should provide resources for autistic kids and who will have to pay for them.

The school district is proud to be one of a few districts in the country to provide in-home services for some autistic children.

But some parents who get them said they come with a dysfunctional bureaucracy, one that not only delays treatment, but drains families financially.

For Diego Medina, every word is a victory.

At 9-years-old, Diego has moderate autism.

Behavioral therapy has helped Diego progress from a child who didn't speak to one who can now communicate his basic needs.

"(Therapy) made a world of difference," said his mother, Lynette Medina.

Medina said she remembers Diego's first word at the age of 4-and-a-half.

"The therapist ran out of the room and she's like, ‘He's talking,' and I was like, ‘What did he say?' and she said, ‘He said Nemo,' and I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh, he's talking.'"

Through the school district, Diego receives 10 hours of in-home behavioral therapy a month. The services are designed to improve his ability to function in the classroom.

To get them, his parents must hire his tutors, provide all materials and pay them up front. They may then seek reimbursement from the district at a lesser hourly rate.

"I know families that turn these services down because they don't have the money," Medina said. "I know families that have sold everything they have to be able to provide these therapies for their families and I don't think they should be put between a rock and a hard place just to provide these therapies to their children."

The district insisted that no child is denied therapy based on their ability to pay.

But in response to concerns from another family who couldn't get the services, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada filed a complaint with the Nevada Department of Education.

In the complaint, it asks the state to find that the services are required by law and that the district must provide them fairly.

"Provide them in a fair manner that's going to work for families," said Barbara Buckley of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. "Let families know about it, do it in a timely way, not require parents to wait months, even up to a year, when they're needed in weeks and then pay for them so that it's not just the wealthy parents who can get treatment for their kids."

The district insisted the services are supplemental to what's already available in the classroom and not part of a free public education.

Currently 88 of the district's 4,000 autistic students receive the in-home therapy.

"I think we're doing a very good job," said Cynthia McCray of the Clark County School District.

McCray, who supervises the team that determines who qualifies for the program, said the process takes between 30 days and three months.

"Very few districts do this at all," she said. "But we realize the benefit of how this would help our students so give that we decided to find a way to give this service to our parents."

Back in Diego's second classroom, his therapist celebrates each little victory, as his mother works to make sure her son has every chance to achieve them.

"Why should that be that you can't change your child's life because of that, because of money?" Medina said.

The state Department of Education is expected to decide whether the district needs to change it processes in any way.

The Nevada Office of Civil Rights will determine if or how parents should pay for the services.

The complaints are administrative and are not lawsuits.

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