Friday, August 30, 2013

New Brunswick is a Canadian (and North American) Leader In Early Autism Intervention and School Autism Services


New Brunswick is a Canadian, and North American,  leader in early autism intervention and school autism services.  I do not doubt that that statement is enough to prompt a retort from many jurisdictions.  New Brunswick is not one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in Canada, let alone North America, but the fact is that New Brunswick has had publicly provided early ABA autism intervention to the extent of 20 hours per week for ages 2-5 for several years.  700-800 education aides and resource teachers also  received the same UNB-CEL Autism Intervention training.  

These services have been provided by both Liberal and Conservative governments.  The drive to put these services in place resulted from intense, persistent and well organized parent advocacy.  Above all we had the advantage of guidance from local autism experts.  The UNB-CEL program that provided these autism services was able to do so in both of New Brunswick's official languages, French and English, even though the French language Universit√© de Moncton chose not to participate in developing the program.  Ultimately NB was recognized as a leader in provision of early intervention by Dr. David Celiberti of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.  

Over the past year several international and local experts, listed in the attached letter from Nicole Gervais, Executive Director, have developed an on line program which has provided ABA based autism training to NB teachers and aides. They did so in conjunction with the NB government's new, combined Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The predecessor Department of Education's officials had long felt that paying the UNB-CEL for the autism training was too expensive and were clearly annoyed that the program resulted from parent advocacy, professional advice and direct political initiative. Officials including the Director of Student Services moved to assert control over autism programs in the Education Department, even going so far as to threaten me with legal notice to stay out of a meeting between the Department and ASNB at which autism training was discussed. Nonetheless senior department officials essentially claimed ownership of the program developed by UNB-CEL and have, over the past year, developed the in house departmental training program described in Ms Gervais letter:

I am very impressed with both the international and local autism expertise involved with developing the program and I have to believe that this program will bode well for New Brunswick children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Many of the concerns which I raised in a  recent letter to NB autism officials, and raised several years ago, as an Autism Society New Brunswick representative, when advocating for provision of UNB-CEL autism training for resource teachers and aides are dealt with in this program as described. Given the recognized expertise of those who developed the UNB-CEL program further I am certain that the program itself will be excellent.  

I am much less assured though by the in house elements of the program, particularly the evaluation of the candidates practicum completion, in the context of a collective bargaining environment where the parties conducting the evaluations are representatives of the employer in the collective bargaining relationships with NBTA and CUPE Local 2745 representing the teachers and aides respectively.  I have 30 years experience as a labour lawyer in New Brunswick and federally. I have also been very active as an ASNB representative on autism education issues over the past dozen years. On these issues I do not defer to the Department autism experts or to their in house legal advisers.  There will be grievances filed if any aides or teachers fail their evaluations with resulting pressures on those conducting the evaluations.

CUPE Local 2745 in particular has been averse to even supporting autism training for the aides they represent for fear that older aides would be unable to complete training and their ability to utilize their seniority for preferred assignments would be compromised.  As an ASNB president I had invited and met with the then CUPE Local 2745 President to discuss autism training for TA's (Education Aides) at a breakfast meeting at Bolden's Cafe in Fredericton.   She was totally disinterested in my suggestion that CUPE support parents in advocating for autism training for teachers and education aides.  Her successor, the current CUPE Local 2745 President, Sandy Harding, has been much more openly hostile to our efforts advocating for autism trained education aides in their bargaining unit. 

Notwithstanding my concerns over the in house elements of the program I do recognize the considerable expertise both of the international and the local experts involved in the development of the program and that expertise bodes well for New Brunswick children and students ... particularly if the Department officials have the will to properly evaluate those who take the training.  If education officials can stand up to CUPE 2745 pressure and provide honest, accurate evaluations of autism course participants New Brunswick will continue as a North American leader providing early autism intervention and autism school services to ALL students not just those who can afford specialized instruction or live in Fredericton where evidence based intervention and autism instruction have historically been embraced.

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