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Fastest growing disorder least funded

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW Every year Gina and Radcliffe Kenison round up their team and raise funds for autism research. Many throughout the community are familiar with their cause and recognize the faces of their two boys Radcliffe and Arthur siblings living with the disorder.

The 2007 Western New England Walk for Autism is scheduled for Sept. 15 in Westfield. As they gear up for the annual event, the Kenisons want to highlight an important fact: even though autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the United States, it is one of the least funded.

There are several startling facts about autism which Radcliffe believes are not widely known. For instance, more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Leukemia affects one in 25,000 and receives $310 million in funding; Pediatric AIDS affects one in 8,000 and receives $394 million in funding; Autism affects one in 150 and receives $15 million in funding.

In the Sept. 13, 1952 edition of the "Chicago Tribune," Polio was deemed an epidemic in the city when cases reported reached 729 between Jan. 1 and September of that year. Compare that with the 67 children diagnosed with autism per day, and Kenison said autism is "an epidemic in this country" and he hopes that spreading the word will get more people involved. "[With Polio] the country was in an uproar," Kenison stated.

The East Longmeadow school district is revising their early childhood education programs to meet the demands of autistic children. Nine early education teaching staff members received unpaid training in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

"Autism is such a complicated disability. They had to understand how students would act," explained Superintendent of East Longmeadow Schools Dr. Edward Costa. "Even an adult who had good intentions could do harm."

With ABA, a person's behavior is assessed through observations that focus on exactly what the person does, when the person does it, at what rate, and what happens before and what happens after behavior. Strengths and weaknesses are specified in this way. Many opportunities or trials are given repeatedly in structured teaching situations and in the course of everyday activities.

In previous years students were usually sent out of the district to participate in programs like this. This year will be the first year students can participate in an in-house curriculum which allows children to receive assistance closer to home and has cost saving benefits for the school district, Costa said.

"We know that if we sent nine kids with autism [out of the district], the cost would of been $203,000 for the nine kids. That was last year's prices. This year by developing the program in-house, including monies going toward paying consulting services and continuing with the quality that we want, [it will cost] $190,000. Right away we've achieved $13,000 in savings, immediately," Costa said. "And the future savings is that if we have a student move into tomorrow, they come right into our program and that is not a penny more. In the past, that would be a whole additional tuition."

Costa has high hopes for this program. "Two years from now we're going to have the premier autistic program in the state for working with children, we'll do it for less money and more quality," he said.

But to get to the root of the disorder funds are needed to support research, which is where fund-raisers like the Kenisons come in.

For the 2007 Walk they've received some assistance from Subway and the Chicopee-based business J. Polep.

Last year, the Kenisons' team, "Radcliffe is the Reason and Arthur Too!," contributed over $21,000 to Walk Now for Autism. Kenison said they hope to come close to that amount this year and are looking for new recruits to join their team, including walkers and business sponsors.

"It's an ongoing thing. There is no cure for autism yet," Kenison added.

To donate to "Radcliffe is the Reason and Arthur Too!" you can make checks payable to "Autism Speaks" and send it to Radcliffe and Gina Kenison at 63 Heatherstone Drive, East Longmeadow, MA 01028.

Donors are instructed to write "Radcliffe is the reason and Arthur Too!" in the memo section of the check. If individuals are interested in walking with the team, contact the Kenisons for registration forms.

For more information on autism, visit