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Budget Cuts Threaten To Close Programs For Children With Cognitive Disabilities 01:26
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Susan and Jonathan Parziale get funding to take their daughter, Jenna, who has autism, to swimming and gym classes. That funding would be cut under the Senate's proposed budget. (Photo courtesy of Susan Parziale)
Susan and Jonathan Parziale get funding to take their daughter, Jenna, who has autism, to swimming and gym classes. That funding would be cut under the Senate's proposed budget. (Photo courtesy of Susan Parziale)

Among those most hit by budget cuts are the families of people with developmental disabilities such as Down's syndrome and autism.

The Senate budget released Wednesday proposes to cut $32 million in family aid. Families count on the aid for summer camp, for special diets for children with allergies and for personal care for their children so that they can keep them at home.

Susan Parziale lives in Lynnfield. Her 5-year-old daughter, Jenna, has autism. The Parziales get family support through the North Shore ARC, an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities.

The North Shore ARC organizes a family picnic every year, and it's also where Parziale finds her support group.

"We really rely on each other," Parziale said. "And we get together and we give information to the new families that have children that were just diagnosed. What's going to happen to them next year if they can't provide the meetings anymore?"

The ARC says its autism support centers may not be cut. But another program the Parziales use is being eliminated. They send Jenna swimming and to the gym once a week.

"They provide a swim-and-gym program which is fantastic," Parziale said. "Half hour of gym and an hour of swimming, and it's all special-needs children. It's a wonderful, wonderful program. She loves it. She loves it, and that might not be around next year. It's very, very scary."

Gym and swim is free. Through a community services program, the kids get matched up with a Tufts University undergraduate student one-on-one, at Tufts' campus in Medford. Tracy Ingersoll is the program's director.

"It's a really nice break for the parents," Ingersoll said. "And then it's also a really nice change for recreation for the kids."

There's also a snowflake dance during the holidays. Ingersoll says all these programs are due to be cut as of July 1.

"They took kids off the books completely," Ingersoll said.

Ingersoll says the cuts mean she'll go from helping 400 people with disabilities to helping 25.

Under the proposed Senate budget released Wednesday, 10,000 families would lose personal-care assistants to give them a break from taking care of their children, afterschool programs and specialized medical equipment.

The House has proposed to restore those programs. Meanwhile, in the last three weeks, the state has sent letters to thousands of families telling them that they will be losing their support.

This program aired on May 14, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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