Monday, October 18, 2010

Autism Services in New Brunswick 2010 Update

I would like to thank Fredericton's Daily Gleaner for publishing my letter to the editor concerning the state of autism services in Canada, and more specifically in New Brunswick, in October 2010.

Many do not know that Autism Awareness Month is recognized in October in Canada not April as in the US.

I have been blogging about autism issues for four years and it is easy enough to publish my own comments on this humble blog. It is a big boost though when the assistance, and reach, of a long established local paper is provided.

As stated in the Daily Gleaner today:

Adults with autism need help

Re: Autism

October is Autism Awareness Month in Canada.

Autism is a disorder which is diagnosed based on communication, social and behavioral challenges.

Approximately 75-80 per cent of persons with the most severe form of autism, Autistic Disorder, also have intellectual disabilities.

When my son was diagnosed with Autistic Disorder 12 years ago, the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. estimated that 1 in 500 persons had an autism disorder. Today that CDC estimate has risen to 1 in 110.

Many autistic children and adults can't function on a level which would permit them to live independent lives.

Despite these realities, our federal government has done nothing to deal with Canada's growing autism crisis, preferring to leave autism as a provincial responsibility.

Across Canada provincial governments have provided varying levels of responses. Fortunately for my son, New Brunswick has actually been a leader in developing early intervention and school services for autistic children.

The government-funded early intervention services, provided by competent trained staff at the autism intervention centres, makes New Brunswick a leader in that area.

The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program, which has received high marks by the most expert professionals on external review, has provided training to staff at the early intervention centres and to approximately 500 teacher assistants and resource teachers in New Brunswick schools.

Severely challenged autistic children like my son are able to receive instruction in quieter environments within neighborhood schools, while visiting common areas of the schools like gyms, pools and kitchens for socializing purposes.

As a long time advocate for these evidence-based services for autistic children I thank former premiers Bernard Lord and Shawn Graham for their rich contributions to New Brunswick's autistic preschoolers and students.
And I thank the many parents who fought so hard to draw attention to the need for these services.

I also thank professionals who have led the way like Dr. Paul McDonnell, Dr. Annie Murphy, Dr. Tara Kennedy, all the directors and staff of the autism intervention centers and Ann Higgins of the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program.

We have all failed, however, to improve the living conditions of autistic youth and adults, some of whom live in desperate conditions on hospital wards, with over-challenged and increasingly elderly parents and in psychiatric hospitals.

Autistic adults, as Professor Emeritus Paul McDonnell has recently stated, are badly in need of a modernized residential care and treatment system. We must act now to help autistic adults in New Brunswick.

Harold L. Doherty

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