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

"Common Sense Prevails on Autism"

New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal has written an excellent editorial in which it commends the confirmation by Education Minister Lamrock that the Graham government will be training 100 TA’s and teachers per year for the next four years. The article reflects a good understanding by the Telegraph-Journal editorial writers of why this commitment is necessary. The training commitment is critically important to ensure a real education for New Brunswick students with autism. That is more than enough reason for me to feel thankful this morning. Minister Lamrock’s communication with the Autism Society New Brunswick under difficult circumstances is also a big plus.

But the Telegraph-Journal editorial is itself a reason for celebration. Over the past 7-8 years many in New Brunswick’s autism community have struggled, to provide for their children’s special needs and to obtain decent services for autistic persons of all ages. We have also sought to raise public awareness about the realities of autism. Without true public understanding and awareness of autism the specific steps taken will be undermined. The T-J article is strong evidence that the struggle to raise autism awareness in New Brunswick is succeeding.

Common sense prevails on autism

Published Monday February 12th, 2007
Appeared on page A4

The plight of New Brunswickers with autism and the difficulties encountered by their families have received a lot of ink in the Telegraph-Journal over the past decade. What was once considered an irremediable condition, which might result in institutionalization, is now known to include a broad range of symptoms; and educational techniques for reaching and teaching autistic children have become more common and more refined.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock’s announcement that the province will train and hire 400 new resource and methods teachers to work with autistic students represents the greatest political commitment yet to dealing with the issue. The government hopes to add 100 autism resource teachers a year until the quota is filled.

Autism is one of the clearest examples of a developmental disorder that can be ameliorated through specific educational methods. But the right timing and training are crucial. As New Brunswick parents have become more aware of their autistic children’s needs, they have grown more adamant that the province take the necessary steps to ensure autistic students receive fair access to education.

Given the particular methods and expertise required to teach autistic children, it makes sense to designate a substantial number of resource teachers for this purpose. Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 166 children. Until the full complement of 400 resources teachers is reached, demand for the special instructors will likely be high.

The details of the Graham government’s five-year plan for public education will not be released until spring. But the speed with which Kelly Lamrock has committed to living up to this key campaign pledge is promising. If New Brunswick is to grow “from the worst to the first” in Canadian education, schools will need far more resources to help special needs students.

The broad outlines of Lamrock’s education strategy include “giving teachers the liberty to try innovative methods of learning” and rewarding those who are successful, and intervening earlier with special needs students and exceptional learners. The government’s autism announcement does both, and we hope it proves up to the challenge. Autistic students deserve the same opportunities to learn as their peers.

http://www.canadaeast.com/ce2/docroot/article.php?articleID=101144

February 12, 2007 Posted by | autism, autism awareness, autism education, schools, teachers, teachers aides | 2 Comments