Autism Reality

Shawn Graham’s Autism Promise – A Promise Kept


[Above Premier Shawn Graham; Premier Graham, MP Andy Scott, Autism Connexions director Lana Thomson and some young helpers at the Autism Connexions grand opening]

Since the election of the Shawn Graham led Liberal Party as the government of New Brunswick in September I have made several different comments on the subject of Premier Graham’s autism training promise that he made during the election campaign. The tone and substance of my comments varied depending on other developments that were taking place. During the campaign Mr. Graham promised that a Liberal government would train 100 Teachers Aides and Resource Teachers a year for 4 years at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. The Autism Society New Brunswick has trust and confidence in the quality and integrity of the UNB-CEL AIT program. Fulfillment of this commitment will place New Brunswick in the forefront of delivery of real education services to our autistic students.

Despite Mr. Graham’s well known commitment there was continued resistance by some officials responsible for oversight and delivery of such programs. In the last two weeks that resistance reached a previously unimaginable ferocity with an alternative proposal still being pushed very aggressively by some civil servants. The alternative proposal was, putting it politely, fundamentally flawed. Fortunately, Premier Shawn Graham and Education Minister Kelly Lamrock stepped in and confirmed beyond any doubt that the 400 in 4 years UNB-CEL AIT training commitment for TA’s and Resource Teachers would be implemented. Yesterday I participated in a Dialogue on Education Committee meeting with other “stakeholder” representatives and Education Department officials at which that commitment was confirmed with the first 100 persons expected to begin the course in October.

I am very happy that Premier Graham is keeping his autism promise and implementing the training commitment he made on behalf of autistic students in New Brunswick. In some provinces opposition leaders made promises to autism parent advocates and then abandoned those promises and used the power of government to fight the very parents and their autistic children they had promised to help. During his time as opposition leader in New Brunswick Shawn Graham stood with those of us who were protesting outside the New Brunswick legislature seeking evidence based autism interventions for out children and lent his voice and support. In government Premier Graham has not abandoned us. He has kept his word. He is honouring his commitment.

Thank you Premier Graham.

May 12, 2007 Posted by | autism disorder, autism education, Autism Society New Brunswick, election promises, Kelly Lamrock, Shawn Graham, teachers aides, UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program | Leave a comment

The Face of Autism – Loss of funding spells loss of skills


The Daily Gleaner/David Smith ph

I have on previous comments applauded New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and the Liberal government for its promise to train 100 TA’s and Resource Teachers a year at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. Some TA’s and teachers have already received the training but the commitment made during the election campaign by Mr. Graham is being held up now and, it appears at least, that the commitment is in serious danger of being abandoned or watered down beyond recognition, replaced by in house training by the Department or some other “innovative” alternative. While we remain hopeful that the pledge will be honored we are aware of positioning by the Department of Education officials that would see training of much less quality and integrity than the UNB-CEL program offered by the Department. The attached article from the Daily Gleaner here in Fredericton New Brunswick illustrates the predicament faced by autistic children who have been receiving intervention when the turn five years of age in New Brunswick.



Loss of funding spells loss of skills

By JACQUELINE LEBLANC
leblanc.jacqueline@dailygleaner.com
Published Monday April 23rd, 2007
Appeared on page A1

Tying shoes is a simple task for most eight year olds.

But for Austin O’Donnell, it takes a little more practice.

Austin is autistic, and through intervention therapy, he learns many skills that don’t come easily to him.

Just tying his shoes was broken down into 25 steps to make the task easier for him to remember.

But without continuing the therapy, his mother Jennifer O’Donnell worries Austin may lose some of the skills he worked so hard to acquire.

The government funds an intervention program for preschool-aged autistic children.

Applied behavioral analysis intervention therapy is the most popular and most successful therapy for autistic children. It’s not a cure for autism, but it helps children reach their maximum potential.

But once the child enters kindergarten, the funding stops. But that doesn’t mean the intervention should stop too, said O’Donnell.

That means big money for parents who have to hire the intervention workers themselves.

For the last three years, O’Donnell has organized a benefit dance to try to raise enough money to be able to hire an intervention worker to spend time with Austin every week.

“There are no resources,” she said. “I’m a single parent. I’ve worked two jobs and held the benefit dance for the last three years to split the bill financially. And I’m willing to do that.

“If I don’t fund raise, he simply won’t have it. To me, that’s just not an option. I’m hoping at some point that there’s going to be a change, where (the government) provides some funding.”

Austin was diagnosed with autism when he was four, so he only took advantage of the therapy for eight months before the money stopped.

“I knew the funding would be cut when he entered school,” she said. “I knew that in my mind, but it didn’t really hit me that there was nothing. And, when it happened, I just thought quickly, how can I raise money to continue this?”

The dance usually helps fund about eight to 10 months of intervention therapy.

Most autistic children have a teacher’s assistant in the classroom. But they’re not all trained for autism intervention.

Harold Doherty is with the Autism Society of New Brunswick. His 11-year-old son Conor is autistic.

He said it’s important that the intervention therapy follows the children into the schools.

One way of doing that, he said, is training the teacher’s assistants (TAs) to be qualified to do autism intervention.

“We’re pushing to get the TAs trained,” he said. “If you’re going to have a TA anyway, that you need in most cases, why not train them in some way to be effective to help the children learn?”

There is a course at the University of New Brunswick that trains resource teachers and teacher’s assistants in autism intervention.

Doherty said the Liberal government promised that it would train 100 teacher’s assistants and resource teachers at UNB per year for four years.

This would help autistic children have a chance to have a trained teacher’s assistant.

Yet, Doherty said, there still hasn’t been any move on the promise, and the autism society is worried the government is stepping back, or planning on watering down the promise.

But O’Donnell can’t wait for the teacher’s assistants to be able to take over the intervention work. Austin needs the help now, she said.

“He’s beginning to get to an age where he’s struggling socially,” she said.

“And that’s a big deal because if he’s having troubles at school in that way, then it’s causing a whole other can of worms.

Loss of funding spells loss of skills

“Not wanting to be at school, and being upset all the time, and not really understanding why he doesn’t have friends or why he has such a hard time keeping friends. We’ve been working on that for the last year.”

O’Donnell works with her son on evenings and weekends at home, but she said he needs more intervention time than that.

She said every little bit of therapy can help her son in big ways.

The benefit dance will be held Saturday, April 28, at the Tier II Lounge, above Winners Restaurant on the exhibition grounds at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Mazzuca’s on York Street.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | applied behavioral analysis, autism education, autism interventions, Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, election promises, Premier Shawn Graham, resource teachers, teachers aides | 2 Comments

Will Liberals Broken Autism Promise Come Back to Haunt Them?



The Supreme Court of Canada has handed the autism football back to Ontario Premier and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty turning down the Deskin Wynberg appeal without reasons but now handing parents of autistic children two SCC defeats and making it clear that Canadian courts will not provide effective Charter equality rights to their children. There are many assumptions built into such reasoning but it is hard to reconcile any real notion of equality rights with a deference that allows political decision makers to do as they wish with respect to some of the most vulnerable members of society. In any event now, in Ontario, it is back to Dalton McGuinty.

Will Mr. McGuinty be haunted by his broken election pledge to provide treatment to autistic children past the age of 6? The Standard suggests that it is one more example of failed leadership on the part of the Ontario Premier:

“During the 2003 provincial election, families with autistic children were acutely aware of the government’s policy and for them it was a hot button issue in the weeks leading up to the vote.

In a nutshell, they were incensed with the Ernie Eves Progressive Conservatives and a government practice that cut off funding for IBI therapy when a child turned six.

As the argument went, it was discriminatory, a violation of these children’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As it was, the issue was very political. The Tories had to defend their record. The NDP and the Liberals lined up to attack it.

On the campaign trail, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty was dropping promises across the province, endearing himself and his party to Ontario voters.

One of those promises was to extend government support of IBI therapy for autistic children past the age of six.

This is what the parents of autistic children wanted to hear.

They started to put their support behind McGuinty. They talked to their families, neighbours and friends and encouraged votes for the Liberal party.

The Liberals won the election, and then reneged on the promise.

Not only did McGuinty fail to meet the pledge, his government has spent an untold amount of taxpayer money (the government has refused freedom of information requests for the amount) defending its autism policy against the lawsuit from angered parents feeling, quite rightly, betrayed.

Put this one in the file with the Liberals’ 2003 campaign promise not to raise taxes. It should also put to rest any questions about why recent polls have McGuinty trailing PC Leader John Tory by 10 points when questions about leadership are asked.”

http://tinyurl.com/2zb9hj

Of course the Liberals have promised to require schools to provide ABA trained assistance by next school year a promise which would appear to be impossible to keep. And Lawyer Mary Eberts who represented the families in the unsuccessful Deskin Wyneberg case said that the people providing the ABA will not be trained:

“It needs to be in schools,” Eberts said, dismissing the province’s ABA plan as “a wishy-washy approach that’s offered by people with no training.”

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2007/04/12/autism-scoc.html

Can a leader who backs out of a promise to do the right thing by autistic children be trusted to lead a province? If he will betray the weak and vulnerable who can trust him?

April 16, 2007 Posted by | autism disorder, Dalton McGuinty, election promises | Leave a comment

Premier Shawn Graham’s Broken Autism Promise

Yesterday I read with concern a report in the Telegraph-Journal in which Education Minister Kelly Lamrock announced that the Liberal government will provide autism training to 100 Autism Support Workers/Teachers Aides who work with autistic children over the course of the government’s mandate and that the training might be provided by Department personnel. I received a call last evening from another journalist who had spoken with Mr. Lamrock and confirmed that information. This makes a great Public Relations headline for the Graham government but actually means that Premier Graham will not be honoring a commitment he made during the election campaign when he stated in two separate emails to Autism Society New Brunswick representatives that:

“A new Liberal government will:

1. Integrate services for young children and their families by enhancing and expanding the Early Childhood Initiatives Program to ensure a smooth transition into public school for children identified as at risk or those with special needs, such as autism.

2. Provide UNB-CEL autism training for 100 additional teaching assistants and Methods and Resource teachers each year for four years.

There is a real need for trained TA/Autism Support Workers. The last estimate received by the Autism Society New Brunswick indicated that there are approximately 1000 autistic students in New Brunswick schools. Many of those students need the help of Teachers Aides/Assistants, some for safety reasons alone. For these students to actually learn they need the help of aides who are specially trained to assist them. With attrition and other factors the 100 per year for 4 years would probably not have met the need completely. It was a compromise figure but 100 trained personnel over 4 years will not begin to meet the need.

The decision to train within the Department instead of through the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program is also a serious departure from Mr. Graham’s promise. The ASNB has received information that this in house training is already under way. The Department does not have the expertise within the Department to provide any where near the quality of training necessary to for Autism Support Workers to properly function as Teachers Aides to children with autism. Nor do they have a proper program established for that purpose. The training provided will be provided by Department autism consultants whose pay checks are signed by the government and whose careers are dependent on government. The pressures and priorities of government will have a negative influence on the training received by the TA’s. This will result in a serious dilution of the learning experience of autistic children.

As parents we will have to make do with the reality of poorly trained or non-existent TA’s for autistic children. We will have to continue to find our own means of working to improve our children’s education. We have to because we have no choice.

Unlike Mr. Graham we can not abandon our commitment to our autistic children.

February 8, 2007 Posted by | aba, autism, autism education, election promises | Leave a comment