Autism advocates appear before school board |

Autism advocates appear before school board

by Maggie O'Neill, Staff Writer

April is Autism Awareness Month. Toni Gumm, a Douglas County parent of an autistic first-grader, tries to do something each year to honor the month.

On Tuesday, Gumm and others came to public comment at the school board meeting to implore the district to support a program for autism.

“We want to work in cooperation with the school district,” she said.

Gumm and a group of parents, including Ranee Gaines and Wendi Semas, also parents of autistic children, have started an autism support group, called Families for Effective Autism Treatment or FEAT. On Tuesday, Gumm asked the school board to pass that information onto parents of autistic children.

“The district does not have a program for children with autism,” she said. “We do not see TEDDY (Teaching Each Developmentally Delayed Youngster) as it is structured right now dealing with the needs of our children.”

Gumm suggested that the school district use one of the district’s three TEDDY sections — held at C.C. Meneley Elementary School, Jacks Valley Elementary School and Sunshine and Rainbows Child Care Preschool in the Gardnerville Ranchos (in the future to be moved to Gardnerville Elementary School) — be used solely for autistic children.

“We can easily fill up a section of TEDDY,” she said. “The number of children diagnosed in the Valley with autism is rapidly growing.”

Gaines, a mother of two autistic children, gave her twin 3-year-old sons, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, to someone else to watch before she spoke. The boys cried wildly.

“I am going to share with you the program I have found profoundly effective to my boys called the ABLLS program, acronym for the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills,” she said. “At 3-years-old (my sons) constantly threw temper tantrums, they had about five words in their vocabulary and they didn’t acknowledge each other. … Within months of the program, along with speech and clinical occupational therapy, they were happy kids.”

Gaines asked the school board to consider implementing ABLLS in an autism program.

“Carson City and Lyon County have implemented programs,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Mayville of Sparks, a behavior consultant, said he observed the TEDDY program at JVES. The program did not meet the one-on-one needs of autistic children.

The ratio of five children to one teacher “preclude(s) a highly individualized program,” he said.

“I do believe it’s cost effective to implement an autism program,” he said.

Public comment provides an opportunity for members of the public to make comment before the board. School board members are not required to respond to any comments made. The board is required to set apart the time and to give each person signed-up for comment a chance to speak.

Maggie O’Neill can be reached at mo’ or (775) 782-5121, ext. 214.