Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Foundation of New Brunswick Autism Success Is Being Abandoned

New Brunswick, Canada, like most jurisdictions, has some gaping holes in respect of autism services delivery. But there have also been some significant successes  due largely to the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program and Dr. Paul McDonnell who was a leading force in the establishment of the UNB-CEL AIT Program. While the UNB program is still being utilized for some specific purposes it is being abandoned for cost reasons and to satisfy competing adult interests, particularly in education. 

Adult residential care and treatment in particular is brutally bad here in NB with many severely autistic adults living in group homes with untrained staff and other inadequate resources.  The most severely affected autistic adults live in psychiatric hospitals and some live in other make shift accommodations, at least temporarily staying on general hospital wards and shipped out of the province.  Two young men were sent several years ago to the Spurwink facility in neighboring Maine, USA,  where at least one is believed to still be residing.  

Although not perfect there have been some successes here in NB in early intervention and provision of autism trained education assistants and resource teachers. The foundations for those successes, as highlighted very well in a Brunswickan news article, have been the UNB-CEL Autism Training program and Dr. Paul McDonnell, Clinical Psychologist and Professor Emeritus (Psychology).  Sadly, our provincial government is largely moving away from using the excellent UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program to train early intervention workers and education assistants and resource teachers for our schools. 

Our provincial government has recently approved the provision of in house, on the job, training for early intervention workers in our government approved early intervention agencies of which there are seven in our province.  One or two of these agencies may be able to provide some level of quality training but it is highly unlikely that all seven agencies will be able to meet a quality training level.  The move away from early intervention autism training by UNB-CEL is a serious setback for New Brunswick children with autism disorders.

At the same time New Brunswick has already been abandoning UNB-CEL Autism Intervention training for education assistants and resource teachers in favour of, once again, in house training.  It took some strenuous advocacy by parents of autistic children to obtain a commitment by our previous governments to provide UNB-CEL autism training for our education assistants and resource teachers working with autistic students.  Well placed people in the Education Department, in particular a gentleman named Robert Gerard, objected to the UNB training as being a "Cadillac" service.  Instead the department offered a number of in house training options none of which called for entry qualifications, testing as a requirement of course completion and in some instances no timeline for completion.  

It is my understanding that our government has sent some teachers to obtain BCBA qualifications in the US, and that they will be involved in some capacity with in house training of education assistants and resource teachers.  In house training however has inherent drawbacks. Lack of independence of those providing the training, who will report to a number of Department bureaucrats will be one of those drawbacks. The CUPE local which represents education assistants, and Teachers Association for the teachers, will likely be involved with and possibly interfere with, the conditions and qualifications for training.  There are already reports of a collective agreement  arbitration award which rejected a posting requirement for a UNB autism trained education assistant to work with an autistic student.  I have been unable to confirm that information though as a request made to the Department several weeks ago for a copy of the award has not been fulfilled despite a follow up last week. 

Our present Conservative government has chosen to abandon the quality UNB-CEL training of front line workers in early autism intervention agencies and schools.  Next will come a report by Dr. Gordon Porter and the New Brunswick Association of Community Living both of which have opposed the individualized instruction of students with autism in favor of Dr. Porter's everybody in the mainstream classroom inclusion illusion.

The autism success for which autism parents fought so hard in this province for so many years is eroding before our eyes. In all honesty this is what I expected with the current administration which has such close ties to Dr. Porter's "everybody in the mainstream classroom" inclusion philosophy.  Dr. Porter was part of the advisory team which assisted Premier David Alward in his transition to office after the last provincial election.  Minister Jody Carr and government members Jack Carr and Daniel Soucy all have backgrounds in the NBACL which has opposed attempts to provide one on one ABA based instruction to some autistic students in quieter school environments outside the mainstream classroom.

The abandonment of the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention training and the renewed influence of Dr. Gordon Porter and the NBACL in the provision of education services does not bode well for the future of New Brunswick's autistic children and students.  The challenge of bridging the gap in New Brunswick's adult autism residential care and treatment has always been huge. It is unlikely to be tackled in any meaningful way until a new government takes office in several years time.

1 comment:

Cynthia Bartlett said...

In my mind it is a total conflict of interest to hire Gordon Porter who is formerly of Community Living, which is funded substantially by government. It is all in house and not with advisory from independent sources, not withstanding those who have children with autism themselves. the Autism Centres hands are tied being also funded by the government.