Autism discussions this week

Hearings in Steamboat, Craig will focus on needed services

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If you go

What: Colorado Autism Commission public hearing in Steamboat Springs

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Routt County Courthouse Annex on Sixth Street, in the Trout Room

What: Colorado Autism Commission public hearing in Craig

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Moffat County Commissioners' main conference room, 221 Victory Way

On the 'Net

To give public testimony: Testimony forms available at www.coloradoautis...

People and families affected by autism are invited to speak to a state panel about their needs this week.

Members of the Colorado Autism Commission are scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday in Steamboat Springs and Thursday in Craig. Lu Etta Loeber, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program, encourages parents, caregivers and educators to speak. All speakers also must submit their testimony in writing.

"This will be the first opportunity these parents will have to be heard by a commission that's mandated to deliver these services, and that's why it's so important," Loeber said. "We need more than one voice or two voices."

Colorado ranks low among states in services it provides to people who have disabilities, Loeber said. Parents of children who have autism sometimes pay $20,000 to $40,000 a year for their care, she said. Insurance companies often view autism as a mental disorder and pay for less treatment than they'd cover for other medical conditions, Loeber said.

"We know for sure that there are 19 other states that have mandated that the insurance companies provide services that include early intervention all the way through adulthood, and Colorado has not been one of those," she said.

Last year, state lawmakers approved legislation requiring the commission. Gov. Bill Ritter approved the measure and appointed the 24-member panel. Its job is to identify the needs for people with autism in the state.

After signing the measure in April 2008, Ritter said in a release that the law would "help us better understand, coordinate, and more efficiently provide services to Coloradans affected by autism. One in 169 Colorado children has been diagnosed with some form of autism. Clearly, this is a critical and growing challenge."

Loeber, who has a grandson with autism, was named to the commission's Deliverables Committee. That group "is responsible for the identification, recommendation and delivery of services and programs specifically for those individuals with an autism spectrum disorder," a news release stated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities defined by significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests."

For more information, call Loeber at 970-870-6257.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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