Sup­port for autis­tic chil­dren lack­ing, writes Har­bour Grace mother

The Compass - - OPINION - — Lisa Steele writes from Har­bour Grace

I wanted to share my story with any­one else with a child who has autism and is con­sid­er­ing a move to New­found­land, like we did from Ot­tawa.

In 2009, my hus­band was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal cancer. We spent the last months of his life plan­ning what I would do af­ter he died.

Our old­est child, Emily, was 10 at the time and our youngest, Grace, was six. We knew the chil­dren and I would need fam­ily sup­port so we de­cided it would be best to move back home to New­found­land.

I knew we wouldn’t have ac­cess to the same ser­vices in a small town that we had in our na­tion’s cap­i­tal, but I never thought I would have to sac­ri­fice Emily’s ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter all, I was mov­ing from a “havenot” prov­ince to a “have” prov­ince, right?

Emily has autism, and like most kids with autism, she has her chal­lenges. Emily also has tal­ents, like be­ing able to read at a Grade 2 level when she was only four years old. Her read­ing com­pre­hen­sion is still her great­est strength.

In Ot­tawa, when­ever I had a meet­ing at Emily’s school it was al­ways with a team: her class­room teacher, the ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant, the re­source teacher and the prin­ci­pal. Of­ten there would also be some­one from the school board to help with things like be­hav­iour pro­grams or com­puter sup­port.

In the four years I have been in New­found­land, most of the meet­ings have been with her teacher. I have re­quested in the past that the stu­dent as­sis­tants, who spend a lot of time with Emily, be at the meet­ings. I was told no and that meet­ing with par­ents is not in their con­tract.

When we were in On­tario, all of Emily’s re­port cards would con­tain a list of in­struc­tional ac­com­mo­da­tions. These ac­com­mo­da­tions are made for ev­ery child with spe­cial needs. Some of Emily’s ac­com­mo­da­tions were things like ac­cess to a word pro­ces­sor for writ­ten as­sign­ments, tem­plates or soft­ware to or­ga­nize writ­ten work and the use of adap­tive tech­nol­ogy.

I have yet to re­ceive a re­port card or course progress re­port that lists any ac­com­mo­da­tions from the East­ern School Board.

In Emily’s for­mer school, a num­ber of as­sess­ment meth­ods were used, like oneon-one as­sess­ment, the use of mul­ti­ple choice and teacher/ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant ob­ser­va­tion.

On Emily’s last re­port card, the com­ments from both her re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion teacher and art teacher read: “un­able to eval­u­ate due to lack of as­sess­ment items.”

I have called the school board in hopes of get­ting pro­grams for Emily. I was told to call our autism itin­er­ant, but his voice box was full. I tried nu­mer­ous times for two days to reach the autism itin­er­ant and the voice box was al­ways full. I called the school board again and ex­plained my sit­u­a­tion. I was told they would let him know his voice box was full.

The next day I was still un­able to leave a mes­sage so I called our min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion, who told me to call our school board. I still have not been able to make con­tact with our autism itin­er­ant.

I have called all three of our po­lit­i­cal par­ties and so far the only per­son I could get on the phone was Lib­eral MHA and ed­u­ca­tion critic Dale Kirby.

I know the sys­tem is far from per­fect any­where in Canada. It is wait­ing list af­ter wait­ing list and pro­grams that do not have the funds to ac­com­mo­date all chil­dren that need them. But at least there is a list to wait on.

It doesn’t mat­ter how good your lo­cal school or teacher is, they can­not teach your child with­out the tools to do so.

Emily was given a com­puter tablet for school this year. How­ever, nei­ther she or her teacher re­ceived any train­ing.

I would rather pay for the iPad my­self if the school board would pro­vide us with the knowl­edge of what pro­grams could be put on the iPad to help Emily with her ed­u­ca­tion.

I took my two daugh­ters back to On­tario for my sis­ter’s wed­ding in the sum­mer of 2012, and I can­not tell you how many times Emily asked if she could go home to New­found­land. I lost count af­ter 50. Emily has a free­dom in New­found­land she could never have in On­tario.

I knew my fam­ily would sup­port the girls be­cause that’s what my fam­ily does. But it sur­prised me how much sup­port she re­ceived from the com­mu­nity.

Most people in my com­mu­nity not only go out of their way to say hello to Emily, but try to make her feel part of the com­mu­nity. I wish I could say the same for the East­ern School Board.

Last month was Na­tional Autism Aware­ness Day and Emily’s school sold blue ice cream and blue cot­ton candy. It was a nice ges­ture, but what Emily and all chil­dren with autism, who live in New­found­land, re­ally need is the same ser­vices and re­sources avail­able to other autis­tic chil­dren in the rest of Canada.

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