Many Autistic Kids, Few Schools To Help

Alfonsi--school for autistic kids
Alfonsi--school for autistic kids

Patrick Ruzzo is 4 years old, autistic and a student at the New England Center for Children, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports. That makes him one of the lucky ones.

Bob Ruzzo, Patrick's dad, feels that getting into the center is like getting into Harvard. "It is the equivalent. People come from all around the country," he says.

They come because it's one of the few schools in the country that offers daily one-on-one therapy for autistic kids. Patrick is making progress every day. His dad says he's "confident" his son will speak one day, and will say "Hi, dad."

It's a simple wish, but one that's never granted for thousands of parents of autistic kids.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of them begging for us to take their child, and there's not enough room," says Vinnie Strully at New England Center For Children.

Vincent Strully talks more about the need to treat autism at an early age.
Not in Strully's facility, nor in programs anywhere else, for that matter. More than 24,000 children are diagnosed with autism every year.

"It's heartbreaking to turn away a family. A family feels like we've just condemned their child to a lifetime of misery and in some ways, I think we have," says Strully.

Most public school systems don't have the money or resources to treat autistic children. Educators say it's a little like asking the school nurse to treat a child with leukemia.

"It's a terrible system to have your son's future be dependant on what the tax revenues were in your hometown that year," Bob Ruzzo says.

But the Ruzzos are dependent on them. Right now, their school district helps pay Patrick's $60,000-a-year tuition. There's no guarantee they'll pay for the program in the future.

"We don't go on vacations because we're afraid we're going to have to use that money to pay privately," says Susan Ruzzo, Patrick's mother.

A bill signed today by President Bush offers little help. It earmarks hundreds of millions of dollars for autism research, but little for care or services.

"We have to treat the children who've already been diagnosed because they are so numerous right now and so neglected right now," Bob says.

The Ruzzos say research is important, but their goal is simple: a hug from their son, accompanied by a hello.