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Lawmakers side with parents on budget recommendation



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Lawmakers listened to concerned parents and decided not to recommend cutting funding for autism preschools.

The Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee heard from the parents this afternoon. All say the state-funded autistic schools make a difference.

Lawmakers have been given the tough task of cutting 7 percent of the state budget, and the parents of autistic children were hoping those cuts won't include them. They told committee members there are only four state-funded autism preschools in Utah. They're all full, and all have incredibly long waiting lists.

"My son just spoke his first word eight months ago, and he is doing amazing, so we don't want to stop him. We want to keep him going," said Amy Baker, the mother of two sons with autism.

"It is because of the early intervention and the preschool that they have had that they are even where they are today," Baker said.

Leahna Bundy has a 4-year-old son with autism and another son who is getting tested for it next week. "The autism preschool teaches him how to sit and how to listen. Like I'm looking at you right now, he wouldn't be able to do that without this program," she said.

Both mothers believe their lives would be much different, much worse, if there was no autistic preschool for their kids to attend. "It means the difference between a normal childhood and an autistic childhood," Bundy said.

Other parents of autistic children gathered at the capitol today to plead with lawmakers KSL's Greg Wrubell told the committee he thought his son would never get the chance to go to school, but his son is now doing well at Giant Steps Preschool in Orem.

"Anyone who has had a child diagnosed with autism knows what it's like to feel lost. For as common as autism is, you'd be surprised how little guidance there is when you leave that office with a diagnosis," Wrubell said.

Cheryl Smith, mother to a 10-year-old autistic boy, says it costs the state about $28,000 to pay for one child a year in a preschool autistic program. "Parents would have to come up with that money on their own, or they would have to find someplace else to take them," she said.

Tonight's recommendation will be passed on to the Executive Appropriations Committee. It will then be passed on to the whole Legislature for a vote.

E-mail: corton@ksl.com
E-mail: tcallan@ksl.com

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Courtney Orton
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