Parents Furious Autism Program Is Shutting Down - KMSP-TV

Parents Furious Autism Program Is Shutting Down

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Parents filled a meeting room Thursday night in Burlington County to discuss the fate of a special services program that helps children with Autism. Parents filled a meeting room Thursday night in Burlington County to discuss the fate of a special services program that helps children with Autism.
BURLINGTON COUNT, N.J. -

Regina Petolla is ecstatic she's able to communicate with her son Matthew.

"I love him. He's very challenging. But we have come a long way."

At the age of 2, Matthew was diagnosed with Autism. By four he finally spoke his first words.

Now at age eight.

"He's able to read. He's able to socialize. He's actually playing," said his mother.

Petolla says she owes her son's progress to the "Educational Services Unit of the Burlington County Special Services School District.

The problem is Superintendent Dr. Donald Lucas says funding issues are forcing him to cut the shared program used by dozens of school districts in the county.

"To take this away is disgusting," said one upset parent during Thursday nights meeting regarding the program.

Parent after parent pleaded with the special services school board to reverse their decision to shutter the program - 150 kids with autism would be affected. Ninety-three therapists would lose their jobs.

Therapists at the meeting say they're concerned about the lack of Autism specific training the kids will get and the consistency they say children with Autism so desperately need.

"Any change in environment can greatly affect behavior and make them upset," explained Colleen Qinn.

After returning from executive session, a change of heart from board members. The program will still be shut down.

But after listening to the passionate parents, the superintendent is pushing back the program's closing date two months to September 1.

"This will be a financial issue for us again, but the boards willing to extend that so those services will go smoothly," explained Superintendent Lucas.

Parents say it's the quality of service they're concerned about. They plan to fight the extension, hoping they can get a year to transition to the privatized Autism program.

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