I want to emphasize I know how lucky I am to be living in the time and place I am. There ARE opportunities for Janey. She goes to a school program designed especially for children like her. She gets speech therapy, occupational therapy, swimming lessons, music therapy and more---all at school. She has a terrific teacher. Last summer, she went to a camp that I can never, ever say enough about---Camp Fatima---a dream camp. I am grateful for all the help Janey gets. And many of the other programs we aren't eligible for, I might not want for Janey anyway. But I just wanted to illustrate that just because you hear of a program for children with autism, it doesn't mean that ALL children with autism can participate. Here's two examples---
The Boston Conservatory has a program that gives lessons in music instruments or voice to children on the autistic spectrum. The program sounds incredible---read about it here--and I eagerly went to their FAQ page to see if Janey would be able to access it. Well, this line stopped me cold "Yes, students must already possess basic proficiency (i.e. can play without hand over hand instruction) in their instrument" ,written as an answer to whether the children had to have prior experience. So, basically, this wonderful program is available only to kids on the autistic spectrum who have already had lessons---kids high functioning enough to have been able to be taught the basics of their chosen music area already. And they must have been able to do on in regular classes, as the page says this new program is the only of its kind in the country. It also costs $1000, which isn't so much the issue---not that we have a thousand dollars lying around to spare, but if the program was open to Janey, I would brave hell or high water to find that money somehow. But---it isn't.
And here's one where Janey was too HIGH functioning. I heard about a study being conducted here in Boston to help children with autism acquire language, using new techniques (read about it here). I registered to be considered for the program, and got a call yesterday from a very nice woman who told me all about the program, which sounded wonderful---very intensive and innovative. I kind of had a suspicion here that Janey would not qualify, though. The program is for children called "minimally verbal" I would consider Janey to be minimally verbal, in that she doesn't talk except for simple requests or echolalia, with very rare exceptions, but I do know that that is much more verbal than many kids with autism (and I know how lucky I am that Janey does talk that much) And indeed, once we were screened, the researcher told me that Janey has too much speech to be included in the study. I respect that. It's a scientific study, and she doesn't meet the guidelines. But I still felt disappointed. Seven years of speech therapy have not significantly improved Janey's speech, and I would love to have a chance to try something new to help expand her talking.
I could give a lot more examples here, but these two illustrate what I mean pretty well. I know there are programs which Janey would be right for and other autistic children would not. But for someone without knowledge of the nuances of autism, it might seem that there are far more opportunities out there than there really are. That's why it's so crucial that organizations that support autism put their funds into DIRECT SERVICES---not some vague "awareness" campaign or research that might possible help some theoretical child 10 years in the future. We need help NOW.