Families Sue Los Angeles Medical Center for Cutting Autism Treatments

The families of seven autistic children have sued a regional medical center for discontinuing a type of treatment that they say helped their children.

In the lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday, lawyers for the children's families said the treatment was provided by Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center until Aug. 1.

"These kids, if they get this treatment now, are far less likely to be dependent in the future," said family lawyer Laura Faer. "They'll be able to achieve dreams and lead independent lives."

The medical center's executive director Gloria Wong said the cuts are among many being made as a result of a $384 million budget cut to the state's 21 regional centers.

The treatment in question — called the Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model — provides children with several hours of one-on-one care each week. Parents praise the treatment for providing close supervision of their verbally and cognitively impaired children, while teaching proper nonviolent behaviors in social settings.

In the face of budget cuts, a statewide stakeholder group that included advocacy groups and providers decided the treatment was among one of 25 to target for cuts, said Nancy Lungren, spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services.

Wong said the stakeholder group decided that the treatment was a non-medical therapy and experimental, but the lawsuit contends it "is not experimental, nor is it a therapy of any kind."

The case is the first lawsuit to be filed as a result of programming cuts at regional centers, and Wong said it's an unconventional approach because it skirts the appeals process that is in place for these changes. There are currently 450 such appeals for various cuts at the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center.

An attorney for the families, Laura Faer, said the lawsuit was filed because it is urgent that services be restored for the children affected, a class of more than 100 children.

The parents are suing the Alhambra private, nonprofit for the reinstatement of the treatment, compensatory services and lawyers fees.