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Autism an issue at home and in Olympia

Dan Roach -
Dan Roach
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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

The challenges faced by a family with an autistic child can be overwhelming. State Rep. Dan Roach and his wife Melanie have faced this challenge in their own family.

Roach, a Bonney Lake resident and Republican legislator for the 31st District, has a 5-year-old son, Drew, who has been diagnosed with autism.

Both the representative and his mother, State Sen. Pam Roach, intend to introduce legislation during the session to help families with autistic children. The senator serves on the state's autism task force, which was created by Senate Bill 5311.

“There is no cure for autism,” Dan Roach said. “And once there is a diagnosis there is no one place to go for help.”

One of the ideas Roach hopes to advocate in the Legislature is autism awareness automobile license plates. The fees collected from the plate would go toward producing an informational pamphlet for families.

Drew Roach was diagnosed with autism when he was nearly 3.

“We had two boys about 15 months apart,” Roach said. “Ethan always seemed like he was above his peers and Drew was below. We thought about it, but we didn't really pick up on what was going on.”

When the family had a Christmas party at Roach Gymnastics in Sumner, he and Melanie noticed while the other children played, Drew was in a corner watching a video.

Roach's father joined the party dressed as Santa Claus. The other children crowded around Santa and became excited, but Drew did not react.

“My mom pulled us aside and said she was concerned about Drew,” Roach said.

One doctor told Roach and his wife Drew was fine, but they knew better.

They took their son to the University of Washington for further tests.

“They gave us a card that said your child might be autistic ifŠ” Roach said. “It all checked out. He wouldn't talk and wouldn't respond. I can remember he would line cylindrical objects up stare at them. He wouldn't react like other kids. And at times he threw wild tantrums.”

At times Drew would keep his parents up most of the night.

“Often times autistic kids don't sleep at night,” Roach said. “There can be a lot of stress with no sleep at night.'

Roach said the secret is early diagnosis and early intervention. The quicker a child with autism can receive treatment, the better the prognosis.

“There is no known cure,” Roach said. “But with treatment children with autism can become fully functional or gain some type of functionality.”

Roach would like to set up a central autistic school.

“It would be a win-win for the child and the school districts,” Roach said. “The smaller school districts are stretched for money and they are mandated by law to give services to autistic kids.”

Despite the challenges of living with an autistic child, Roach said, “We are blessed. We've had good help from people around us and this has been a good thing.'

Roach said his other son and his daughter “understand they need to look out for Drew and help him.”

Drew is attending a developmental preschool at Emerald Hills Elementary.

“He's excelling and learning to be more responsive,” Roach said. “We are very fortunate in our school district.”

The following are a few resources available on the Web concerning autism.

€ www.autismspeaks.org

€www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm

€www.doh.wa.gov/cfh/mch/ Autism/Autism.htm

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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