Senator seeks to increase autism program funds

By Matt Daray

The university welcomed a guest Thursday to inspect the university’s Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, visited the center to inspect the work it provides the community and tell employees he will argue for a program-funding increase when he returns to the state Senate from recess. Center employees said the acknowledgement was exciting, and they hope for an increase in their ever-decreasing state funding for treatment of the growing disorder, which now affects one in 88 Americans, according to Center for Disease Control data.

Bradley said the visit helped remind him that his state-budget decisions can affect his constituents.


“It puts faces and names and real stories with the tediousness of trying to go through numbers and the budget,” he said. “We can’t ever forget (the human element) when we try to craft the budget and we try to put resources into needed programs.”

The state’s revenue projections will be positive for the next fiscal year, Bradley said, but the state must also consider additional costs such as the state teachers’ pension program. Bradley said he hopes funding will stay level in areas such as autism research and care.

The university’s autism center, along with other autism programs, is important for the state because the staff members work miracles to give individuals a chance to live a normal life, he said.

“I think it has a positive, miraculous impact on families and children and that it can be an absolute lifesaver and turn around and change a child’s life,” he said. “I think it’s hard to point to programs that have a more likelihood or more opportunity for success in making an individual child’s life better than this program.”

Bradley said the state’s Revenue and Finance committee oversees the budget process and determines how much money the state will have for the next fiscal year. The committee must then decided what debts, pensions and state agencies to pay off, he said.

The state budget is due at the end of May. Bradley said the committee is trying its best to create a bipartisan budget, but it will be ready before the deadline no matter what.

Valerie Boyer, director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, said the center is a part of The Autism Program of Illinois and is completely reliant on state money to fund the center and its programs.


“It’s great to hear the words of support from Rep. Bradley, and it definitely bolsters our optimism that we will continue to be a priority in the budget,” she said.

The center provides diagnostic services to determine whether an individual has autism, Boyer said, which is a deficit in social communication or the ability to interact and understand interactions with individuals. The center also offers counseling services for individuals and families, she said, and students who work at the center are also trained to provide such services.

Sherell Sparks, a rehabilitation councilor and Autism Program of Illinois site director, said decreased funding has caused the center to lose personnel and cut some services.

“I think we started with six (full-time employees), and now we’re down to three,” she said.

Sparks said Bradley’s visit was important because having state officials’ attentions could lead to either fewer program cuts or possible budget increases. Funding increases could help the center take care of the many people on the center’s waiting list, she said.

“We have probably close to 320 kids waiting on the wait-list or eligible for it,” she said. “Over the years, we have evaluated probably about 900 kids from this region.”

Autism often affects language skills and can cause interest or behaviors the individual will engage in multiple times, Boyer said, such as an infatuation and compulsive need to always talk about a specific topic. For example, someone who has autism might have an interest in trains and feel the need to frequently talk about them.

Because April is Autism Awareness Month, Boyer said the center is sponsoring a student center bowling night April 26 for families to have a fun evening and learn more about autism.