Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alpine Autism Center, IEP Tomorrow, and Hatfield

This morning we went over to the Alpine Autism Center to see who they are, what they do, and get their advice for our IEP meeting tomorrow.

It’s a beautiful building, located on the grounds of the St. Francis Monastary in Northwest Colorado Springs. Its about 35 minutes from home, but I think I could get there in 15 minutes from Work. We walked in, there’re 3 treatment rooms and some offices. They have 12 kids in the program – some are half day and some are full. Each kid has a full time therapist who does everything with them. And then there are additional people running around doing things too.

Really neat place. The therapy used is the CARD curriculum. Each child’s program is written specifically for them. They extensively document - to the point of graphing - progress on all goals. Each child has a binder full of treatment notes. We spent about an hour talking with the program director, A, and head teacher, S. Dominic interacted really well with both of them. By the end he was hugging them and asking them to pick him up. We were really impressed with them, their interactions with him, and what they do. The downside – its exhorbitantly expensive – the half day program is $2300/mo. Seeing it, we understood why – there’s ~2.3 adults per child. Plus 1 secretary, and a director. The half day program is 3 hours of therapy, one on one ABA, educational therapy teaching the skills they need to communicate and socialize.

We did ask them if we had a finite amount of money, would it be better to do 6 weeks of full day or 3 months of half day. (we could probably stretch it to 4 before we had to start asking for help), and they said it would be better to half days for longer. We asked when we would start to see measurable improvements, and they said within a matter of a few weeks. They work on each kids individual issues, so the biggie we’d be working on with Dominic would be the verbal skills. They both said that their impression of Dominic after sitting with us for an hour or so was that he would benefit from their program. They try to get a child placed within 30 days of application, but sometimes have to hire additional therapists for that child.

For the IEP tomorrow, the pointers they gave us were interesting – for example, if an IEP goal is for Dominic to be able to do something with prompts or verbal cues, we need to change it so that he does it independently. We definitely need to make sure that they change his category from preschooler with disability to preschooler with Autism. I have now, thanks to them copies of the 2001 National Research Committee study on Educating Children with Autism, and the 2007 American Association of Pediatrics report on Autism, and both of those studies say that 25 hours of face to face educational intervention is required 12 months out of the year.

That is the “Cadillac” and we have been warned that the school district will argue that they don’t have to provide that level. But I’ll still be taking the documentation in with me and quoting it. We’re going to be asking for the ESY – extended school year – and one of our big questions will be about what exactly that means – where is the program located, how many students are involved, what are the credentials of the teachers, what are the hours, etc.

So all of that said, we will still be going to interview Dr Hatfield on Tuesday. He does NOT have a good reputation among parents. And the insurance will not pay for ABA – they consider it an educational intervention, and therefore not the responsibility of health insurance (Side Rant, if we were indigent and on Medicaid, Medicaid would pay for this – to the tune of 35K per year. Or if we were in the Military, Tricare would pay for. The govt. knows its effective. We so need Universal Health care- Oh, and the Medicaid waiver we’re going to apply for has a 3-5 year wait list. ). But we’re still going to meet with him. Apparently he’s of the school of thought that diet and vitamins (what we’re doing right now) are completely a waste of time and money and entirely ineffective (we already know that’s not true, but its good to know how he feels going in). So, we’ll see. I doubt we’ll use him, because frankly an hour a week of a child psychologists time is going to be just as useless as an hour a week of speech therapy.

We have decided to go ahead and cancel the place up in Littleton simply because the drive is prohibitive. One way or another, we’ll do our best to get Dominic AT LEAST 3-4 months of half days at the Alpine center probably starting right when school ends. Maybe more. He’s 4 – we simply cannot afford to wait any longer as none of the therapies thus far have shown improvements in his language skills. If we can show significant improvements in minimal time from the Alpine style of intervention, we may be able to get D11 to pay for some of it (apparently that’s been done before). If we get amazing results, then we may ask for help from people we know and/or see if we can get some grants. The Alpine center is a non profit.

Oh, and while the IEP tomorrow morning is important, its not going to be earth shattering. If we don’t like whats in it, we file for mediation, if that doesn’t work, we do a due process hearing. We don’t have to agree with the school, and what we get on paper tomorrow can be changed pretty quickly if we need.

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