Framework

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In his bedroom, Jonah Funk, 13, makes repetitive movements with his hands, a classic autistic behavior. His mother has worked tirelessly to secure an array of services for him from the state and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jonah sits nearby as his younger sister, Bailey, 5, right, and Emily Rodas, 8, dance. Even if the teen can't participate in an activity, his mother says, "Jonah likes to be with the kids in whatever they are doing."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Micah Funk, left, 5, and Bailey Funk, 5, play with their older brother, Jonah, at their home. Getting public services for an autistic child can require parents to wage a small war.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Scars can be seen on Jonah's hands from years of self-biting. His mother, Stacie Funk, says: "The day I accept my son's hand-biting as normal behavior for him is the day I consider I have failed as a mother."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jonah takes a break from class at Hesby Oaks School. His mother says the teen "loves to learn."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jonah works with his behaviorial aide, Michelle May, in his classroom. L.A. Unified expects to spend more than $50 million this school year to provide 1,182 autistic students with aides from private companies. Those students represent 11% of the district's autism cases.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jonah eats vanilla ice cream with sprinkles as part of his nightly ritual. He is upset because his mother is going for a rare evening out. An unwillingness to break routine is often a sympton of autism.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jonah leans into his father, Loren Funk, before a Shabbat dinner in October. Jonah's mother, Stacie Funk, says having dinner together as a family is important to her: "Every Friday night we do the Shabbat ritual before dinner. We light the candles and we say the blessing over the challah [bread] and the wine."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Loren and Stacie Funk embrace their son Jonah at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino after giving him his prayer shawl a few days before his bar mitvah.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Loren Funk reads and sings to his son before bed. A bounty of publicly funded support has helped keep their family together, Jonah's mother says.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese Castillo, 11, covers his eyes during his 11th birthday party. It wasn't until his mother got a lawyer that Jese was granted a behaviorial aide, a coveted service for families of autistic children.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Castillo, center, gets ready to take her son, Jese, 11, and daughter, Kimberly, 10, out for a walk. In public, Castillo hangs on tightly to Jese's backpack. Once he nearly ran off the edge of a second-story balcony, she said.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese sits on his mother's lap during a church festival in South Los Angeles.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Castillo, right, covers her son Jese's ears after he reacts to loud music at a church festival in April.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese Castillo plays in the kitchen as his mother, Elizabeth, makes soup in their South L.A. apartment.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese is strapped into a dental chair in preparation for a teeth cleaning. The 11-year-old has struggled to learn how to brush his teeth. He has gingivitis and needs to have his teeth professionally cleaned three times a year.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese Castillo, 11, sits on the shoulders of his father, Victor, in their backyard. Jese can say a dozen words by his mother's count, including "Papa."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese leans his head against the living room wall in his family's apartment as his younger sister, Kimberly, looks over her schoolwork. In both the developmental system and schools, the processes for determining what services a disabled child receives is in essence a negotiation with the parents. Jese's mother said school officials ignored her repeated requests for additional services for her son until she got a lawyer.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Kimberly and Jese Castilo pull down blankets for bedtime in their South L.A. home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Elizabeth Castillo, left, listens to Guadalupe Barrera, right, during a meeting of a group for parents of children with autism or other developmental disabilities. At first, members of the group, called Mothers of the Little Heroes, simply traded tips on how to better communicate with their children. Eventually they started discussing how to get better services.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

After his graduation from fifth grade, Jese kicks and punches a photographer in his South L.A. living room.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Jese is surrounded by family members during a party for his 11th birthday. This year, he was able to blow out the candles on his cake by himself.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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Autism: Varying levels of assistance

Public spending on autistic children in California varies greatly according to racial, ethnic and socioeconomic status. The meekest families, as well as those limited by language barriers, rarely are handed coveted assistance such as personal aides.

Read Alan Zarembo’s article: Services go to those who fight hardest

More from this series:

Part 0ne: An epidemic of disease or of discovery?

Video: Living with autism

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