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Illinois Autism Centers Threatened By Cuts

The Autism Program

Many Illinois parents who have children with autism bring them to one of nineteen centers around the state, but that may change.

Illinois' autism centers will have to close if the state doesn't allocate funds, leaders of the programs say.

The Autism Program was supposed to receive $4.3 million dollars this year, but that money was cut off when Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended a total of $26 million of state grants.

Jim Runyon works for an autism center in Peoria. He says while the grant freeze has gotten a lot of attention because of its immediate consequences, there are bigger problems ahead. Rauner's proposed budget gives The Autism Program no money at all next year.

"The loss for the fourth quarter of FY15 is significant, but to lose all funding for children with autism in the state of Illinois would really be a tragedy," Runyon said.

The centers provide services to diagnose autism. They also provides therapy to help children with autism improve social skills and their overall development.

Three-year-old Jackson Miller has autism. His dad, Matthew Miller, says Jackson's best days are the ones he spends at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

"They've went above and beyond what we ever expected them to do," Miller said. "They're there for Jackson, they're there for my family, they've talked to my older son who's had a hard time with this. Just like they said, if someone in your family has autism, everyone has autism."

Leaders say it will stay open through summer thanks to donations, but will most likely close if funds aren't allocated. Several medical specialists at SIU's center have already received layoff notices.

Miller says just in case, he's already put Jackson on a waiting list for an autism program in St. Louis.

Lisa Ryan is a graduate student in the public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She previously worked at Indiana Public Radio and the college radio station founded by David Letterman. She is a 2014 broadcast journalism and political science graduate of Ball State University.
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