"We're going to flat out close"

"We're going to flat out close"

URBANA — The Autism Program at the University of Illinois is on its way to becoming another casualty of Illinois' budget debacle.

A free community resource for families for 11 years, the program has managed to remain open since last July without a contract or state grant funding. But it's about out of money, and plans are being made to shut it down June 30.

"We're going to flat out close," Director Linda Tortorelli said.

The Autism Program of Illinois, or TAP, was a network of centers left in limbo after the state budget impasse began last July. Its central office closed last September.

A $204,000 annual state grant is used to keep the UI-based program at 904 W. Nevada St., U, running, Tortorelli said. It got by on about half that much money this past year by piecing together some rainy day funds, donations and making cuts, she said. Among them: Tortorelli taking only half her salary and another staff member going without pay.

The local center is a resource for parents, professionals, students and anyone with autism, providing information, education, training and referral services, which hundreds of people take advantage of. Diagnosing doctors send kids with autism there, along with their parents for education, Tortorelli said, and teachers come looking for free classroom materials for their students with autism.

"Anybody can walk in off the street at any time, and we will help them," she said.

One reason the center has been able to manage service volume has been with free student help. Each semester, about a dozen students majoring in such fields as education, human development and psychology together put in about 100 free hours, enabling the center to run five days a week plus Saturday mornings.

Lesley Lee, a 48-year-old Savoy mother of three, has found the center invaluable.

This past March, a doctor diagnosed one of her sons with autism and also told her he believed she was on the autism spectrum and her other two children were most likely at risk.

Lee said she had previously been diagnosed with and medicated for bipolar and borderline personality disorder, but this new information answered so many questions for her about issues in her life — a failed marriage, ongoing problems on the job at the UI Library, missed social cues and even about temporarily losing her children once for child abuse.

She sees now that autism has affected her parenting and her work.

"It's like suddenly it explains everything I've been trying to understand," she said.

Attention: Springfield

A year's worth of free service from the Autism Program at the UI:

600 people served in the resource room, plus 200 more served through intensive consultations.

30 community training sessions given.

1,000 classroom materials a year provided for teachers serving students with autism.

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Lostinspace wrote on May 06, 2016 at 11:05 am

But we can afford a medical school?

rsp wrote on May 06, 2016 at 12:05 pm

You listed the number of people served, that should be lives changed, speaking as a parent of a child with autism. This is such a loss.