By Jack Starry
I am the parent of a child who has autism. I was shocked to learn that the Virginia Department of Health Child Development Center in Winchester is going to be shut down. The CDC evaluates special needs children for the Intellectually Disabled Waiver and the Developmentally Disabled Waiver. These waivers help to provide essential services for special needs children, including behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, environmental modifications and a wide range of other important aids to facilitate improved quality of life for the affected and their families.
Virginia will be redirecting all of the families in our area served by the CDC down to Harrisonburg at James Madison University, 72.8 miles away.
The children benefitting from the services have a wide range of disabilities, including autism (low to high functioning) as well as other developmental and intellectual disabilities. Travel can be traumatic and difficult for these children. A markedly increased distance to travel Is even more so stressful and traumatic.
The Winchester CDC had my son initially seen, evaluated and had his evaluation documented within a period of three months. All of this with minimal loss of time from work. As I am sure you can imagine, families with special needs children are stretched to the limit financially as well as emotionally. The CDC kept the disruption to a minimum. The evaluation isn't a pleasant experience no matter how you look at it, but it was certainly minimized by the close proximity to home and "normalcy" for the patient in question.
A call to the Harrisonburg CDC was distressing. Parents will need to travel to the CDC there to fill out paperwork first before an evaluation can be conducted. The wait for that appointment is at least one month. The child would need to be supervised at home while the parents take an entire day off of work or home duties to meet with the staff.
Once the initial appointment is completed, a minimum of three months on the wait list will pass before an evaluation can be scheduled. Once completed, another six weeks minimum will pass before the data can be compiled and prepared to be presented to the parents -- who would have to find capable supervision for their child while taking a third day off of work or home duties to travel down to the CDC.
That's almost six months total. Twice the amount of time needed to get from A to Z at the Winchester CDC. Yet the state thinks that closing it will benefit families because their contractors will be able to evaluate more patients in a shorter period of time.
I invite you to re-read the above paragraph and show me where the shorter period of time is located.
Closing the Winchester CDC is a mistake. It will adversely affect hundreds, if not thousands, of families in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. I urge your readers to speak out against this closing!
Jack Starry is a Boyce resident. His son J.T. is autistic. Visit Starry's website, Northern Shenandoah Valley Autism Resource, at www.nsvar.org.