Govt cuts to hurt autistic kids
By ANN-MARIE MAY
LINDA Longbottom has a simple tribute for the Coffs Harbour Early Childhood Intervention program: 'It's changed our lives'. And now that the program's funding has been cut by more than $17,000, she says she's frightened about the future. The Longbottoms moved to Coffs Harbour from Sydney with their two-year-old daughter, Casey, and threeyear-old autistic son, Jack, two years ago. Jack has now been part of the program for 18 months, where he has made astonishing progress. "Our little boy can now talk. Before coming here he had no form of communication except for yelling and chatter," she said. The youngster lacked social skills when he first started with the service. He couldn't sit with the group. All that's changed and now he fits in. As well, the family has been taught sign language and other visual aides to help communication. But Mrs Longbottom knows there is still a lot of work to be done. With other parents, she's extremely worried that local children are going to be let down. "A lot of these kids are difficult to deal with and without the support of the centre, it would make life that much harder," she said. "If they have to cut back on staff, who will help these kids? Will we (the parents) have to do it alone? We don't know enough," she said. At the moment Jack attends a 90-minute group session at the centre a week. On top of this staff work with his child care centre and parents. However, experts have said autistic children need around 30 to 40 hours a week in total of early intervention. "It's all the time we can get with the number of staff and children," she said. "We just can't do more, it's already stretched. With this funding cut he may get less time, if any at all," she said.