Mysteries of the mind: April is Autism Awareness Month

Living on the spectrum

"The tough part about autism is that most cases on the surface look similar, but when you get down to it, all of our kids are different," said Dee Perkins, a member of the Liverpool school board.

Perkins' 11-year-old son Taylor, a sixth-grader at Willow Field Elementary, is autistic. She attended a state conference on autism in Albany last month and spoke about the need for increased resources for autistics in Central New York.

The hearing, held March 8, explored high rates of autism among New York's children, its possible causes and its impact on families. According to the state legislature, autism diagnoses in New York alone have risen 700 percent since 1992, rapidly outgrowing the resources available.

"We have Casey's Place, Enable and Exceptional Family Resources doing some great work in our community," Perkins said, "but that need is ballooning at an alarming pace."

The state is working to improve the resources and access to them for those in need of care. Perkins and autism experts agree that early intervention and access to services is critical.

Erin Bartholomae is a key example of the importance of early intervention. Right after her diagnosis, Erin's parents enrolled her at Main Street School, an integrated preschool program in North Syracuse.

"They were great," said Erin's mother Peggy. "They helped a lot. But it was really hard for me to send her to school. I was afraid they wouldn't understand her."

Fortunately, the teachers at Main Street were more than adequately trained to handle a child with disabilities like Erin's. Maureen Patterson, now assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Liverpool district, taught at the preschool at the time that Erin was a student there.

"There are an abundance of people at Main Street -- especially the occupational therapy staff, the physical therapy staff, the vision staff and the hearing impaired staff -- whose knowledge is akin to that of a medical staff," Patterson said. "I was changing ostomy bags as a teacher there. I had to know all of that stuff."

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