Thursday, May 03, 2007

"We Can Do Better" - Flashback - May 2004 Autism Education Rally

Autism advocacy is never easy as illustrated by this article covering a May 2004 rally held to push for ABA based instruction for autistic children in NB schools. At that time Conservative Family & Community Services Minister Tony Huntjens stated that an education program was being set up at UNB to train teachers to provide ABA based instruction. In fact the Conservatives did provide for approximately 85 Resource Teachers and Teachers Aides to be trained at UNB-CEL's Autism Intervention Training Program, a small but important first step in addressing the needs of New Brunswick's autistic students. Subsequently Liberal Opposition Leader Shawn Graham promised to train 100 TA's and Resource Teachers per year for 4 years at the nationally recognized UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. Unfortunately, all signs now indicate that the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training training will not be provided as promised by Premier Graham. Unfortunately, it does not look like the Liberal government "can do better" as opposition critic Kelly Lamrock, now the Minister of Education, once boldly asserted.

Daily Gleaner | Provincial News
As published on page A3 on May 4, 2004

Parents march to protest tight funding for autism
Group contends age ceiling leaves many stranded

(The Daily Gleaner/Dave Smith Photo)
Dawn Bowie, left, a parent of an autistic child, and 11-year-

for The Daily Gleaner

Frustrated parents picketed outside the Centennial Building on Saturday
against what they call "discriminate funding policies" by the Lord
government when it comes to educating children with autism.

"We're here so children of school age can benefit from the funding, because
right now it's discrimination," said Nancy Blanchette, who chairs the Family
Autism Centre for Education (FACE).

Currently, parents with autistic children can receive funding aid for their
child's special needs, but only up to age five.

Once they grow old, or enter the school system, the funding dries up.

Parents argue that they need the funding to pay for special education for
their children, such as applied behavioural analysis (ABA). They say that the
early intervention ABA offers for their children has made great differences,
but it isn't cheap.

"My son Justin was diagnosed with autism when he was about two years
old," said parent and FACE board member Dawn Bowie. "Back then, we
couldn't find much support around. There was none."

Bowie said the family did know about ABA, and was able to be evaluated
by a child psychologist who's an expert in the field.

"We paid big, big money. Tens of thousands of dollars. And we're still paying
big, big money."

ABA works one on one with an autistic child to pinpoint behavioural
problems and works to correct them. It teaches routine, responsibility,
and normal behaviour to children with autism.

Parents say that autistic children who receive ABA intervention are less
disruptive in school, and more apt to become socially involved.

However, many parents say the current funding is useless unless the age
restriction is lifted and children can continue to receive ABA after they enter
the public school system.

"We want to let the government know that autism doesn't go away at the age
of five," said Blanchette. "A lot of children aren't even diagnosed until
later than this, so there's still progress to be made to help them reach
their full potential.

"If (Premier) Bernard Lord's touting his quality learning agenda, where no
child gets left behind, he has to understand that this also applies to children
with special needs in the school system."

FACE had publicly invited Lord to come out and talk to the crowd
on the weekend, but was instead greeted by Fredericton Liberal
MLA Kelly Lamrock.

"We can do better. We know the options," he said. "We know that
ABA treatment works. Premier Bernard Lord says he has to make
tough choices? I say he made bad choices and cut taxes. If you
can get up every day and deal with this, you deserve the Liberals'

Tony Huntjens, minister of Family and Community Services, says that
the current funding system is new, and it will take time to work out
the kinks.

"First, we need to tackle autism at an early age, because that is
where most good can be done," he said. "Once they get to age six or
enter the public school system, these children can work with their

Huntjens said the Lord government has no intention of raising the age
limit for autism funding.

Parents say that children with autism need to have ABA throughout
their childhood, and that leaving the problem to the teachers when
their children enter school will only put more strain on the public
school system.

"I've told Minister Huntjens that he might as well throw his money to
these families over the Westmorland Street Bridge," said Dawn Bowie.
"The progress ABA makes stops after these kids get to school, so what
good is that?"

Huntjens said an education course is being set up at the
University of New Brunswick that will train interested teachers to
provide ABA to potentially autistic students.

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