Local woman launches national non-profit program to help kids with autism

May 16, 2012 9:14:38 AM PDT
New research shows the number of children being diagnosed with autism and mental illness is going up. Therapy would help many of them, but few families can afford it.

Now, a Houston-area woman has launched a national non-profit program to provide financial help for those families, and she has made sure the money is easy to qualify for.

Three-year-old Yakser Syed's parents noticed when he was about two that his speech was delayed, and he wasn't properly responding to their calls. Still, they were surprised when he was later diagnosed with autism. Now he's seeing a behaviorist at the Varidian Center and making huge strides, but at an enormous cost.

"It's over $2,000 a month that I'm having to pay out of pocket, and so it's definitely been a big hit on us financially having to provide for this type of therapy but the progress that Yasker has made with it, it makes it so worth it," said his mother, Saba Syed.

The Syeds did get some financial help for their son's therapy from Dr. Layla Salek, a behaviorist who herself grew up in a home with a mentally ill parent. So she says she understands how deeply the wounds reach when autism, mental illness or other issues aren't properly assessed and treated with occupational therapy, speech remediation, and family education and support.

But it was quite by accident that she found a way to link her hobby with her work.

"I just serendipitously one day started talking pictures of toys in my daughter's playroom and I loved them and I sat there and tried to figure out what can I do," Dr. Salek said.

What she did was turn the photos into clothing -- onesies and T-shirts made of organic cotton -- which she sells in a few Houston-area stores and the proceeds fund her charity, Susie Bean. Susie Bean selects behaviorists with proper certification and training to partner with them by referring clients who need help. One hundred percent of the profits are made available to clients. Erin Breen is one of four service providers in our community linked with Susie Bean.

"It was such a simple process. I just filled out the application, talked to the family and she sent me the check and so it was absolutely wonderful," Breen said.

Dr. Salek hopes to make financial help available in cities all over the country. Her organization is on the forefront addressing a national challenge.

"Autism is on the national epidemic list, so for insurance just to decide they're not going to cover this that's huge. And these families really need help and if we don't pay for it while they're little then we're going to pay for it as a society later on," Dr. Salek said.

The Syeds offer their story as proof of the potential therapy offers.

"Since he's so young and he has so much potential I want him to live a full, normal, independent life where he can take care of himself," Syed said.

If you would like to be a part of Susie Bean's fundraising efforts to help families, or if your family is in need of help, you can access their website.


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