Calhoun becomes national voice for autism Print
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Thursday, 12 April 2007 16:38
NCAAB Headline News


 HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -Four-year-old Reese Calhoun jumped into her grandfather's arms Wednesday and gave him a big hug, an accomplishment that means more to UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun than his two national titles, 750 wins or induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Calhoun has six grandchildren, and Reese is one of two who have been diagnosed with autism, a disorder characterized by a difficulty in expressing needs and inability to socialize. The cause is not known.
Two years ago, Reese did not acknowledge her grandfather when he was in the same room, Calhoun said.
``When she used to give me silence when I went to the house, it was very, very difficult, I have to be very honest with you, It was very difficult to handle,'' Calhoun said.
About one in 150 American children has autism, according to a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an effort to raise public awareness of the problem, Calhoun has taken his family's story public, and wears an autism pin on his lapel every day.
``Everybody asks me what the pin is for, and they get half an hour,'' Calhoun said. ``If they don't like it, they get an hour.''
Calhoun was at the state Capitol on Wednesday with members of his family, including Reese, pushing for legislation that would create a new state agency to coordinate services for people with autism in Connecticut, and seek federal funding to help pay for those programs.
The state is one of three in the nation without such an agency.
Calhoun said he has been able to help get his grandchildren the therapy they need. Both Reese and her cousin, 3-year-old Sam, have made great progress both verbally and socially, are moving off the autism spectrum and are expected to have normal childhoods, Calhoun said.
But private therapy is not covered by insurance companies and services in Connecticut for the autistic vary from town to town.
Families have to piece together information from several sources such as the state Education and Mental Retardation departments. About 3,000 school-age children receive special autism services from the state, but that ends at age 21 for anyone who is not mentally retarded.
``Everyone should be entitled to having their child's needs met,'' said Amy Calhoun, Reese's mother and Calhoun's daughter-in-law. ``It's not fair for people who can't afford private therapists coming in their homes and working with their children.''
The Calhouns were joined at a news conference by lawmakers, and families who talked about having to choose between keeping homes or providing services for their children. Others have been forced to move from school districts that could not meet their needs.
Matthew Parenti, 42, said he lives in Watertown, where school officials balked at following the treatment plan his son's doctor's had recommended.
``We need an agency to ensure that kids get the services that are best for them, not what is best for the parents, not what is best for the school,'' he said.
Calhoun said he believes more services will come as more people become aware of the problem, and see children like Reese, who have been helped.
``I have great pride in Reesie,'' Calhoun said. ``Now, to watch this happen, my responsibility as a human being is to do everything I humanly can to make the awareness and to help other people.''
 

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