My son Conor, who has Autistic Disorder, does not live in an autism "community" on the internet. He lives with his family in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.
In expressing my hopes for him over the next decade it is to our local realities, here at home, that I look first. I hope that the huge gains New Brunswick has made in providing autism specific early intervention and education services are not lost, or diminished, in the face of economic instability that has emerged to shake the world. And I hope that needed changes can be made to improve the lives of New Brunswick adults with autism and particularly to improve our system of youth and adult residential care.
Some Canadian provinces have already seen the discontinuance of some hard won autism services. In an overcrowded lifeboat it is easier to first throw the weak and vulnerable into the cold choppy waters than the strong and capable.
Here in New Brunswick the gains that have been made have been under constant pressure from some Education department officials who resent what they have seen as a loss of control by having Teacher Assistants and Resource Teachers trained at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. The program has been very favorably reviewed by Dr. Eric Larsson but Education officials have not been happy with a program that arose from external parent driven advocacy and have been determined to regain what they perceive as a loss of Departmental control. To that end they are in the process of detaching themselves from the excellent local training at UNB and have sent Department members to the United States to become trained as BCBA's who then will be providing training in house to teacher assistants. Previous versions of this plan did not require the assistants who are trained internally to have any existing qualifications, did not require a time table for completion of training and did not even require testing upon completion of the program or phases of the program.
The union representing teacher assistants also objected to the UNB training requirement and insisted on the right of senior, untrained TA's to work with autistic students in place of the autism trained but junior in seniority TA's. Under the diluted, in house training proposals a conflict between seniority and qualifications or ability would not arise. The lack of any real standards meant that every TA who wanted to work with an autistic child would simply have to sign up for the Department training and learn on the job with the autistic student they worked with.
Unfortunately, with the Department having already funded some of its people to acquire their BCBA status in the US for the purpose of "training" TA's in house, it appears that the quality and integrity of the UNB-CEL Autism Training Program will become a thing of the past. It will be replaced by the in house training that ensures Education Department officials can exercise tight control over the autism training process, and training expenditures, and will buy peace with the union representing Teacher Assistants. The interests of adults will probably prevail over the interests of autistic students unless a new generation of parent activists arise to challenge this transition.
The area in which progress has been almost non existent in New Brunswick has been adult services and particularly residential services. New Brunswick has placed autistic youths and adults wherever they could at times including on the grounds of a youth correctional facility, the ward of a general hospital and in psychiatric institutions in Saint John and Campbellton. Those who have lived in the community based residential facilities live in facilities where the staff have no autism specific training. Efforts to remedy this process have not resulted in any substantial progress over the past few years although there is hope that a system review and community consultation process will begin over the next year. It will be a huge challenge but one that must be started as our autistic population matures.
To those who like cheerful, feel good predictions for the future my comments will not be well received. My experience though tells me that if we do not look at the reality of the challenges we face, in this case the autism realities, no real progress will be made. By all means we must remain optimistic about the possibility for progress but we must undertake to make that progress happen by facing the real challenges realistically and fighting hard to change things for the better. I say this because I have been involved, with many other parents, in doing exactly that over the past decade and I know that is what it takes.
Happy New Year and Happy New Decade to all.