I am the father of twin, nonverbal autistic boys, RJ and Gunnar.

In the seventeen years since they have been diagnosed, programs offered by the state Department of Developmental Services have been critical to the stability of my family’s life.

Our first experience with DDS programs was the use of the John Dempsey Center in Putnam when the boys were 3 years old.  At the time, DDS funded the use of the center for my family for one weekend every quarter. That provided our boys with a safe environment with specially trained staff.

My boys currently attend River Street School in Windsor and as they will “age out” in a year and a half, my wife and I are concerned about how we will care for them as we grow older.

My boys will always require constant supervision. Respite services have been an essential part of maintaining our family. Although it does not exist anymore, the John Dempsey Center and its staff were a valuable resource from 2000-2013.

There needs to be more respite facilities. People wait on lists to get respite care, and they need help now. They can’t wait — I know.

I urge legislators to support Sen. Terry Gerratana’s bill that would enable existing state DDS workers who already possess the required skills to help families in their homes and repurpose closing regional centers into respite care centers running seven days a week.

Demand for services is growing and the current demand is not being met. Expanded respite will not solve the DDS waiting list crisis, but it can provide needed relief to these families.

Jim Schmitt is the father of two teenage, nonverbal autistic boys.

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