The Philadelphia Public School District is trying to connect with parents of children with autism.
The district held an Autism Expo Friday highlighting tutoring, speech therapy, summer camps and other services available.
Mona Cohen, who teaches children with autism at Julia Ward Howe Elementary school, started the expo four years ago to send parents a message about what she calls an isolating disability.
“You are not alone, you are not isolated,” Cohen said. She offered up some advice for parents: “Talk to all service providers that you can, do outreach, have conversations, use the phone, and search for services for your children. They are there.”
Northeast Philly resident Sharon Pierce said she was overwhelmed in February when her four-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, an autism spectrum disorder.
“I felt kind of lost when I first found out,” Pierce said.
At the event she visited booths for autism advocacy groups. She is trying to figure out how to get the mental health services her son needs through public assistance programs like CHIP, the state health insurance program for kids, but she said gotten tangled up in regulations she is not familiar with yet.
“I’m kind of frustrated with the whole system, I don’t know where to turn here. Hopefully somebody will help get through the process,” Pierce said. “It’s bad enough he has a lot of stress, but to put stress on me that’s even worse.”
At the event former state Speaker of the House Dennis O’Brien, an advocate for autism services, said he was concerned that state budget cuts would reverse some of the progress made in autism research and education in recent years.