It is hard to believe that Canada has a province with NO autism program in place at all but that appears to be the case in Saskatchewan where the "Faces of Autism" conference is being presented by Newfoundland native Carolyn Forsey on October 26-27, in Meadow Lake Saskatchewan, some 10 years after similar advocacy and awareness efforts began in Newfoundland. The conference is hosted by Saskatchewan Health, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Prairie North Regional Health Authority and Northwest School Division #203 and will feature author, teacher, trainer, keynote presenter and consultant Barbara T. Doyle MS and Ronald Leaf, Ph.D licensed psychologist and co-author of A Work in Progress, a book on behavioral treatment.
Forsey said Saskatchewan is far behind the rest of the country when it comes to autism support.
“In Newfoundland in the beginning they were diagnosed with autism and told to go home and forget about it, and Saskatchewan parents, that’s what they are living with,” she said. “In Newfoundland we began this process and it’s sad that ten years later Saskatchewan is going through the same thing.”
She added that today, Newfoundland has child management specialists and behaviour specialists to work with autistic children, and the government continuously puts money towards autism intervention. Currently, Saskatchewan Families for Effective Autism Treatment (SASKFEAT) is working towards getting the much needed support for families in the province.
“Saskatchewan is the only province that does not have a provincial program set in place for ASD,” explained Ferguson. “There’s nothing in the province of Saskatchewan for the parents.” Winkler said this conference is a step in the right direction, but it is just the beginning. “I think it needs a focus, and I think this conference will help do this,” he said.
“The government needs to be pushed and there needs to be a focus and recognition of difficulties faced by the parents of people suffering.”
Forsey said she hopes that at the very least, this conference will give the parents and those affected by autism a little hope. “We need to tell the parents, you know what, we’re going to start to try to do something really good for these kids,” she said. “Parents are going to leave there with a sense of hope. That’s the whole premise of this conversation. They’re not alone."
As someone who has been actively involved with autism advocacy in New Brunswick for the last 8 years I can empathize with the predicament of Saskatchewan families who have such a big hill to climb. Fortunately they should be able to catch up more quickly through emulation of, or at least by learning from, existing programs in other Canadian provinces and US states.
Of course it would be easier if there were an injection of funds to assist the people of Saskatchewan construct programs even remotely similar to those of oil rich, next door neighbor, Alberta. With the federal government of Stephen Harper, oblivious to the needs of autistic Canadians, that could be difficult. The mythological Big Foot has a better chance of getting assistance from Mr Harper's Conservatives.