Lynda Tache left a job for a calling.
By her mid-30s, Tache had successful careers in hospitality, where she was a food and beverage manager on the Strip, and then in finance, where she oversaw a department for a large bank.
Those achievements meant little to Tache after her son, Grant, was diagnosed with autism in 2007.
Tache's life mission became helping Grant, and, in the process, helping thousands of other Nevadans with autism. After volunteering as an autism lobbyist, Tache founded the Grant a Gift Autism Foundation in 2009. The group raises funds to help families pay for autism diagnosis and treatment. Grant a Gift is also involved in The Autism Center of Southern Nevada, a resource center for families struggling with autism, and the TeenWorks Vocational Volunteer Program, which places autistic kids with businesses and nonprofits to learn career skills.
To observe National Autism Awareness Month, Grant a Gift is holding its third annual 5K Race for Hope, Fun Walk and Family Resource Fair at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Town Square.
Question: Your son was diagnosed with autism, and you left banking. What prompted the change?
Answer: My son was diagnosed late, when he was about 5 years old. That's partly what has motivated me. I knew something was wrong from the time he was 6 months old. He walked late, he talked late, he showed delays in development, he cried a lot, he wouldn't interact with other children, he wouldn't engage me with his eyes. The pediatrician discounted it, and said he was just a boy, and told me not to worry. I began to internalize it: What am I doing or not doing? Am I doing the wrong things? You feel crazy. You feel so isolated. When you go out in public and your child has a tantrum, you don't even know what to do.
My son finally got diagnosed through a referral from day care, but the reality is, if we had been pointed to the right resources, he could have been diagnosed earlier. He's doing pretty well now, but he could probably have been much farther along.
Question: Any advice for other parents who feel their child may have autism?
Answer: If you think there's something wrong, you know your child best. Ignore people who tell you not to worry about it. Reach out to community groups, your school and other doctors until you get answers. For kids under 3, Nevada Early Intervention Services can help. The Clark County School District's Child Find Project can help kids over 3. They can contact Grant a Gift as well. We have a list of community resources and we can direct them to support groups. We also offer scholarships to help families fund diagnosis and treatment.
Question: When did you feel the need to work in autism support full-time?
Answer: It was a gradual process. I got more involved in each legislative session when autism bills would come up. I would be on a team of people working on bills. I met (former Nevada first lady) Dawn Gibbons after my son was diagnosed. She's been a mentor to me and she got me interested in ways I could help. I started working with other community groups and nonprofits. Then my son started having challenges in school, and I was in a position where I couldn't hold a normal job. That was my defining moment, where I said, "I have to do something. My son has only one life, and if I don't address what he needs right now, he may never be independent."
Question: What's the state of autism care in Nevada?
Answer: Autism is probably the most underfunded epidemic. We have about 6,000 families in Nevada that have autistic family members, and the state provides 6 percent of what children need for effective treatment. Treatments can be expensive - from $10,000 to $40,000 a year. ... Children need multiple treatments in areas including speech, occupational and behavioral therapies. Most families have to pick and choose ... because they can't afford it all.
Question: Has the state insurance mandate helped?
Answer: Yes, it's made a difference. Overall, there are families getting served. But policies through companies that are self-insured or through unions don't have to include coverage. Some ... are starting to step up for employees who need help, but we're still in kind of a ramp-up period. And because it's hard for insurance companies to absorb the treatment costs on individual insurance policies, some insurers are charging a $3,000-a-month rider, which can cost more than services themselves.
Question: You have two new initiatives. How do they work?
Answer: With the Autism Center, we wanted to open a center that could address autism challenges from birth to adulthood. We focus on early intervention - how we can get families headed in the right direction for diagnosis, and to help fund treatment. We have a social skills program for kids 6 to 12, to help them work on social deficits so they won't get bullied and can build true, long-lasting friendships.
For TeenWorks, the question was, "What do kids do once they reach age 12?" Services fall off at that age. In the next 10 to 15 years, there'll be an estimated 800,000 children with autism nationwide aging out of school and into adulthood. If they don't get social and vocational development, they won't be able to work and function. With TeenWorks, kids can start an internship or volunteer work program at 13. They work 12 weeks with one of our partners. They don't get paid. At the end of the session, we'll do résumé-building classes. About 90 percent of autistic adults are unemployed, and that's not OK. They can work if we just find out what they're good at and educate employers.
Question: As the single parent of a special-needs child, how do you balance work, community and family?
Answer: It's very difficult. It's so overwhelming to have a child with autism. Like any disability or challenge, it consumes you. Everything I do is autism, and it's so hard for people who have to give so much energy and time to their kids to find time for themselves. I'm working on that really hard. I definitely tell people to look into respite resources, or organizations that can pay a caregiver to baby-sit your child one or two days a month so you can treat yourself and forget about everything for a little while.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.