Demand for autism services outpacing availability in NE Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Parker Faris is an active eight year old.

"If you're not smiling when you're in the room with Parker, you're not doing it right," his mom, Nicole, says.

He's also autistic, diagnosed at age three.

"They go through the long list of all the things they should be doing and he was missing a lot of his milestones," Nicole said.

She and her husband Rick said the news was overwhelming.

Rick - There's that initial shock of, okay, where do we go from here, how do we fix it? You don't understand the problem yet," Rick said.

After initial help from TARC, the answer brought them to EasterSeals Capper Foundation in Topeka.

Linda Burgen, Capper's Autism Services Director, said intensive, dedicated therapy known as Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, has shown great strides in helping children with autism.

"Early intervention is definitely the key," she said.

Parker started with speech and occupational therapy. But it would be another two years before a spot opened in the ABA program.

"It is a more intense service than most other services," Burgen said. "We address communication, his ability to organize information, his ability to remember things and to formulate ideas and put things together in order to tell us what he needs and what he wants."

Each ABA session takes several hours.. which means space is limited.

"The challenge there is the resources don't keep up with the needs," said Jim Leiker, President and CEO of Easterseals Capper Fdn.

Capper currently has Topeka's only ABA program, with a wait list that’s reached 90 children.

They aren't alone.

No Stone Unturned in Manhattan says it faces a similar situation, with more than 50 children waiting for ABA services there. Autism Speaks lists the next closest providers in Lawrence and the Kansas City Area.

Realizing the need, Pam Evans with Topeka’s Family Service and Guidance Center told 13 NEWS it’s developing an ABA program which should launch later this year.

However, all three organizations agree they face added challenges in finding certified therapists, along with funding for the staff and resources needed to provide the services.

Nicole and Rick hope more services become available. They say it's given Parker his voice, and they want other families to experience the same.

"To be able to come up and say, 'Hey, I want to play with you." That was impossible two years ago," Nicole said of the changes they've seen in Parker. "We're actually able to see our little boy. He's an amazing kiddo - amazing; and he gets to be himself because he can tell us who he is."

"He inspires me to be a better person," Rick added, "and I hope other people see that as well."

Capper Foundation has a capacity crowd of parents, caregivers and educators registered for its Autism Summit taking place Friday.

No Stone Unturned is holding its "Be Your Own Superhero" walk for autism and special needs awareness. It's from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. It will include a carnival event with bounce houses, face painting, resource venders and raffles.