Dear Honourable Elected Leaders, Representatives and Public Officials
I am writing to you as the father of a 14 year old son with severe Autistic Disorder and profound developmental delays, and within 48 hours of the deaths of severely autistic 22 year old Benjamin McLatchie, and his father Daniel McLatchie, in nearby Gray, Maine. The Maine state medical examiner’s office has ruled the case a murder-suicide, the father having shot and killed his son and himself. Reports describe the father as a caring stay at home father who despaired for his son’s future, in a state with inadequate residential care for autistic adults, after his own inevitable passing. There is speculation that the father’s fears and despair might have prompted this tragedy.
Many parents, including here in New Brunswick, including this father, fear what awaits our autistic children after our passing. In New Brunswick the governments of former Premier Bernard Lord and current Premier Shawn Graham have both been world leaders in helping our autistic children. The same can not be said with respect to autistic adults.
Autistic children aged 2-5 can receive government funded early intervention program from trained service providers. The Stan Cassidy Center’s autism pediatric tertiary care team is of great assistance to many autistic children. The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program, has received expert recognition for its excellent program and has trained several years worth of early intervention workers, teacher assistants and resource teachers in autism specific interventions. Many autistic children have received the benefit of a flexible, student oriented approach to educating autistic children in neighbourhood schools where those autistic children who can learn in a regular classroom do so while those, like my son, who require more individualized curriculum and training methods and place of learning adaptations do so in environments structured for their specific needs and strengths.
In adult care however New Brunswick has been stalled as reflected in the 5 years without substantial progress that have passed since a youth was housed on the grounds of the Miramichi youth correctional facility while waiting transfer to the residential treatment facility in Spurwink Maine. We have not established a residential care and treatment system that would provide assurance of a decent, respectful future for those autistic adults who will live dependent on the care of others, adults like Benjamin McLatchie in Maine. Group homes are not adequate for all of New Brunswick’s autistic population. Right now many parents are struggling desperately, and facing severe challenges, while trying to care for their adult autistic children at home. The most severely, low functioning autistic adults live at the psychiatric hospital in Campbellton far from parents and loving family members.
I have been present at several meetings over the years where government has been asked to provide a decent residential care system here in New Brunswick. Autism representatives have asked for an enhanced group home system with community based locations in different areas of the province. Of urgent importance has been the need for a geographically centralized combined residential care and treatment facility for autistic adults in Fredericton, close to the resources and expertise of the Stan Cassidy Center, the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program and the University of New Brunswick Department of Psychology.
On this last day of Autism Awareness Month around much of the world and with the reality of the tragedy from Gray Maine still fresh in our hearts I ask you all to move New Brunswick forward to establish the autistic adult care system that is badly needed in New Brunswick.
Harold L Doherty