The Honourable David Alward
Premier of New Brunswick and Minister
Responsible for the Premier's Council
on the Status of Disabled Persons
The Honourable Madeleine Dubé
Minister of Health
The Honourable Sue Stultz
Minister of Social Development
The Honourable Jody Carr
Minister Education and Early Childhood Development
Dear Honourable Premier and Honourable Ministers
Re: Adult Autism Residential Care and Treatment in New Brunswick 2000-2010 and Beyond; In 2011 Will Autistic Adults Remain Forgotten?
As this year draws to an end and a new year approaches I congratulate you on your victory in the recent election; on winning the trust of the people of New Brunswick. In facing up to the well known financial and economic challenges confronting New Brunswickers I hope, and trust, that this government will not neglect the eduction, health and social needs of New Brunswickers, of all New Brunswickers, including NB adults with autism disorders. In particular I hope, and ask in this open letter, that this government begin serious efforts in 2011 to address the residential care and treatment needs of New Brunswick adults with autism disorders.
I am the father of a 14 year old boy with Autistic Disorder, assessed with profound developmental delays. In plain language he is severely autistic. I have, because of his condition, been an active autism advocate in New Brunswick over the past 12 years. New Brunswick has enjoyed much success in addressing preschool and education needs of autistic children and youth in recent years taking an evidence based approach and we have done it in both of our official languages. These advances began under the government of Premier Bernard Lord and grew during Premier Shawn Graham's term in office. The success that has been enjoyed with autistic preschoolers and students stands in stark contrast, however, to the lack of progress in helping NB's autistic youth and adults who are severely disabled by their disorders and who have need of residential care and treatment which have not been provided in any meaningful sense in New Brunswick.
In 2005 the national media reported that an autistic New Brunswick youth was being held on the grounds of the Miramichi youth correctional facility. At that time NB autism advocates had already been advocating for several years for a modernized residential care and treatment system for NB youth and adults. No significant progress has been made over the past 10 years. During the recent election campaign Professor Emeritus (Psychology) and Clinical Psychologist Paul McDonnell was interviewed by CBC and described a comprehensive modernized approach to autism residential care and treatment:
"Our greatest need at present is to develop services for adolescents and adults.
What is needed is a range of residential and non-residential services and these services need to be staffed with behaviorally trained supervisors and therapists.
Some jurisdictions in the United States have outstanding facilities that are in part funded by the state and provide a range of opportunities for supervised and independent living for individuals with various disabilities."
We need an enhanced group home system throughout the province in which homes would be linked directly to a major centre that could provide ongoing training, leadership and supervision.
That major centre could also provide services for those who are mildly affected as well as permanent residential care and treatment for the most severely affected.
Such a secure centre would not be based on a traditional "hospital" model but should, itself, be integrated into the community in a dynamic manner, possibly as part of a private residential development.
The focus must be on education, positive living experiences, and individualized curricula. The key to success is properly trained professionals and staff."
The model described by Paul McDonnell has been described and advocated for in meetings with senior civil servants over the past decade but no action has resulted. Today we still have autistic adults living in facilities outside New Brunswick and in a variety of ad hoc accommodations. The most seriously challenged persons live in the psychiatric hospital in Restigouche. The current group homes have untrained staff . We need a modernized, centrally located facility that could provide treatment and permanent residential care for those most severely disabled by autism disorders and community based residential facilities around the province with properly trained staff. In 10 years there has been no progress in addressing the residential care and treatment needs of autistic youth and adults. I respectfully ask that your government begin planning, in 2011, to provide an evidence based system, as described by Dr. McDonnell, that will address these needs and provide a decent quality of life for our autistic youth and adult population.
Harold L Doherty