Great autism news in New Brunswick as the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program is being made available for the public. (Applications available online.) The college program has previously been recommended by US autism experts Dr. Eric Larsson and Dr. David Celiberti. Dr. Celiberti in particular is very familiar with the program and had recommended the New Brunswick autism service delivery model which was based on the program for consideration by other Canadian provinces. Unfortunately for New Brunswick's autistic children, students and adults the successful UNB-CEL Autism Training Program, first utilized by the Premier Bernard Lord's Conservative government, and then by Liberal Premier Shawn Graham's government, has been abandoned by the David Alward government and its non evidence based, philosophically driven partners at the NBACL.
The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program was born in response to requests for tenders for autism training put out by the Lord government. That request resulted from intense and effective advocacy by many New Brunswick parents of autistic children led by the Autism Society of New Brunswick. The actual program itself was first conceived at a meeting of a committee which was meeting to establish an autism centre of excellence at UNB in Fredericton. During a committee meeting a parent advocate member of the committee suggested that UNB should provide training in response to the government tenders. Dr. Paul McDonnell who was at the meeting confirmed that UNB had the professional resources to provide the training. Anne Higgins, then with UNB-CEL, laid out a step by step process, including necessary time lines, that could be followed to meet the tender requirements. A pilot program was run and the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training was born!
Parent advocates, including yours truly, lobbied strenuously for the extension of the UNB training to our schools. We met fierce opposition from some in the Department of Education who had their own agendas to pursue. I was even subjected to threats from Department of Justice legal counsel, at the request of the then Director of Student Services, Robert Gerard, to keep me from participating in meetings between the Autism Society and Education department officials to discuss implementation of a commitment by Premier Shawn Graham to increase the numbers of UNB-CEL autism trained education assistants working with autistic students.
We also met with fierce opposition from the New Brunswick Association for Community Living which included direct opposition from NBACL icon, then NB Human Rights chair, and now Alward transition team member Gordon Porter. The current Education Minister's wife Krista Carr is an executive officer with NBACL and at the time she also opposed the Autism Society's position that alternative learning environments were necessary for some autistic students and in particular for those receiving ABA based instruction, provided by UNB-CEL autism trained aides, in quieter settings outside the regular classroom. Danny Soucy is a current member of the Alward government, also affiliated with NBACL, and was also a public opponent of Autism Society efforts to achieve the flexible inclusion necessary for many autistic children to be educated at all and in particular to receive ABA instruction from UNB-CEL Autism trained aides.
A third force opposing parents advocating for UNB-CEL training for our children was, and is, the union representing education aides, CUPE Local 2745 and its leader Sandy Harding. During the time I was ASNB President I had requested a meeting with Ms. Harding's predecessor to seek the CUPE Local 2745 support for autism trained education aides (TA's). Ms Harding's predecessor was not interested and she herself upon taking office as Local 2745 president has been openly hostile to any serious training requirement for aides working with autistic students.
CUPE Local 2745 has used its considerable clout to resist any training requirement and pushed hard for seniority as the only requirement for aides working with children with autistic disorders. As a labour lawyer with a quarter of a century experience, in New Brunswick and federally, I can say that such a lop sided approach to any job posting requirement is almost unheard of and, as the Alward government currently genuflects before CUPE Local 2745, constitutes an abandonment of management rights. Removal of the UNB autism training requirement in favor of pure seniority considerations and refusal to permit learning outside the classroom when necessary also constitute failure to accommodate the autistic disorders, the neurological based disabilities of children with autism contrary to Human Rights Act requirements. Both the Alward government and CUPE Local 2745 are now discriminating against children with autism disorders by refusing to acknowledge the need for autism training for aides working with children with autism disorders which are in fact serious neurological disorders.
With these three major institutional forces aligned in lock step opposition to the accommodation of New Brunswick's autistic students comes a fourth factor - the current shaky state of the world economy. Economic factors currently provide perfect cover for the Alward government to abandon the quality and integrity of the UNB-CEL autism training for the sloppy in house training that was opposed by the Autism Society New Brunswick and for a surrender of our children's best interests in the face of the adult interests of untrained senior members of CUPE Local 2745.
In this perfect storm the revival for the public of the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention training program, and the quality and integrity it provides, is one bright light in the darkness. It is a beacon to guide us and provide hope that better days are ahead.