I never thought I would turn into an Advocate. But as soon as Mateo was diagnosed with Autism at over 2 1/2 that is exactly what I became. I began advocating to get him services immediately. I began advocating with the school district to move him to a “typical” preschool with a full-time Aid to assist him. I became his voice and would do anything to give my son every opportunity in life.
So finding myself arranging a march on the State Capitol, writing online Newspaper articles, and fighting for something so important just seemed like the right thing to do. In 1969 Reagan passed The Lanterman Act in California. Until the past week, I didn’t know about the Lanterman Act or the fact that because it exists Mateo has the right to receive the services he so desperately needs. Currently Governor Brown is proposing to gut The Lanterman Act and take away the following rights from Mateo and every developmentally disabled individual in California.
The Lanterman Act:
The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, known as the “Lanterman Act,” is an important piece of legislation that was passed in 1969. This is the California law that says people with developmental disabilities and their families have a right to get the services and supports they need to live like people without disabilities.
The Lanterman Act outlines the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, how the regional centers and service providers can help these individuals, what services and supports they can obtain, how to use the individualized program plan to get needed services, what to do when someone violates the Lanterman Act, and how to improve the system.
Losing the Lanterman Act would mean that children like Mateo are at risk for losing their rights to learn to speak, to interact with peers and adults, and basically how to function in society. Our first days of therapy when Mateo was just over 2 1/2 was trying to get him to just repeat words, how to roll a ball, how to put a ball in the round hole and a square in the square hole. Through hours of therapy each day Mateo learned how to speak independently, how to write and spell his name, how to put on his shirt, be potty trained, brush his teeth. Could Reuben and I have done it alone? The answer is no.
And where would Mateo be today without 2 years of therapy? He would most likely be in a Special Ed school with Autistic Children and far behind these accomplishments. He would most likely NOT be entering a “typical” Kindergarten in the fall. He may not be speaking independently, only in echoed tones and phrases. And without therapy he would likely fall further and further behind. Only able to attend Special Ed schools. Unlikely to attend college. Unlikely to be independent. Without the hope for a future that he deserves.
How many children will be diagnosed with Autism in California in the next year? Currently the estimated in the nation is 1 in 91 American Children, Including 1 in 58 boys. Each year the increases for ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) are staggering. So what will happen for the children like Mateo who cannot speak or communicate? Where will they end up? How can our schools afford all of the Special Ed dollars it will take? And by the time they enter the school system they will be so far behind because of losing the most valuable years of therapy. Imagine the missed possibilities. How we are holding them back? How are we failing them?
Autism is a neurological disorder, their brain must be trained and through visual cues and consistent repetition and with guidance and support from a team of skilled individuals this is possible. Without therapy we are failing them. These are extremely intelligent individuals with so much to give our society, they just need the skills to share these thoughts with the world.
It is our duty as people of this society to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. To give each person the quality of life they deserve. And as parents we all want our children to have the best possible opportunities in life. So I will continue fighting for Mateo and all of the children like him that deserve every opportunity in life.