“We never thought he would speak again.” Wabash Valley family calling for more state funding for students with autism

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PARKE COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) – The national statistics are staggering. One in sixty-eight children in the United States is diagnosed with autism.

While public schools do provide special education services, staff may not have the training required to work with students on the spectrum.

A Wabash Valley mother is pushing for more state funding in local classrooms.

Like your average second grader, Couper Kersey is learning the core subjects. “Basically what we try to do is focus on his motivation and get tasks completed using his motivation,” said Alexee Hayes, an ABA Therapist with Unlocking the Spectrum.

Couper is diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Hayes specializes in a therapy known as Applied Behavioral Analysis, which zeroes in on positive reinforcement. “Reinforcement can be anything from drawing on a white board for two-minutes to looking an IPAD for thirty-seconds. It’s anything that he just loves to do,” said Hayes.

A specialist works with Couper 20-hours per week, that’s down from 40 at the start of the school year. Soon the program will be phased out.

“As soon as we got the diagnosis, it was our job to make sure he got what he needed, and that’s where we asked, where do we start,” said Jenn Kersey, Couper’s mother.

Couper’s parents partially fund the aba services through their private health insurance, which will soon come to an end. The therapy has helped their son grow leaps and bounds. “It was great to hear him speak again. He’s a fantastic reader. He loves to read, so he will read a story and that’s amazing,” said Kersey.

The Kerseys hope to gain state funding for a pilot project in Southwest Parke Schools to make ABA therapy available to all district students with autism.

Republican State Rep. Alan Morrison has agreed to author a bill, with State Rep. Clyde Kersey, a Democrat, as co-author. The bill is currently being drafted.

Southwest Parke, which includes Rosedale Elementary, has 13 students in three buildings, two elementary and a junior-senior high, with autism spectrum disorder. The project, if approved, would provide one board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and seven registered behavior technicians (RBT) among the three school buildings, or about one therapist per two students.

“Again, it’s that culture, and it’s the awareness, the acceptance, and it just makes sense,” said Kersey.

Without change, Hayes often worries about the what if’s. “It would break my heart a little bit. Everybody at our center just adores him. It would be rough,” she said.

The behavior analyst would work with the technicians, teachers and aides in the school to develop programs for each student as well as provide professional development for the school corporation.

News 10 will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the bill.