In Canada October is our official Autism Awareness month.
That is not as widely known as it might be for a number of reasons including the fact that we live next door to the large, influential United States where April is the official Autism Awareness month. A second reason is that we do not have a meaningful National Autism Strategy. Here in Canada our federal government has taken a small and narrow approach to autism. Our federal government plays no meaningful role in providing autism services across Canada and in fact plays no meaningful role in providing reliable evidence based information about autism. For that reliable autism information parents and autism advocates have had to look to the United States for guidance. It is quite understandable in those circumstances if Canadians assume that April is also autism awareness month here in Canada. In some provinces though, particularly British Columbia and New Brunswick strong parent advocacy did lead to creation of evidence based autism services being available.
Here in New Brunswick we live in one of Canada's smaller, less affluent provinces. Nonetheless we were, for a while at least, a Canadian leader in provision of evidence based early autism intervention, thanks to strong parent advocacy and sound guidance about evidence based autism interventions from UNB Professor Emeritus (Psychology) and clinical psychologist Dr. Paul McDonnell. With the information base to which Paul McDonnell directed us, parents were able through determination and strong advocacy, to prompt our governments, both Conservative and Liberal, to provide evidence based early intervention services, in both English and French at a level that was recognized by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment:
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I read with great interest your recent article about the state of services in New Brunswick (“N.B. Can Be a Leader in Autism Services," September 14, 2010). I do beg to differ about the title of the piece. New Brunswick is already a leader. To have amassed 800 trained agents of change in six years is nothing short of incredible and inspiring, particularly given the diversity of your province with respect to geography and language. Other Canadian provinces can look to New Brunswick for an exemplary model of how things could and should be for children with autism and their families.
There is a misconception that services in the United States are superior to that of our neighbors to the north. I can assure you that children with autism in rural areas and in economically depressed areas of the U.S. do not always access state of the art, science-based treatment such as those based on applied behavior analysis. In many cases throughout the US, children with autism receive poor quality behavior analytic services that may be lessened if providers were able to access more intensive training and networking opportunities similar to what is being offered in your province. Part of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT)'s mission is to help close that gap through information dissemination, and we are keenly interested in the efforts of leaders like yourself developing, implementing, and evaluating systems.
And like other true leaders, you have looked critically at your accomplishments with an eye toward making every year of service delivery better than the previous year. We applaud your recognition that treatment parameters such as intensity need to be tailored to each child to maximize gains. When resources are scarce, this individualization can be an arduous task, but nonetheless critically important. Equally important is the need to communicate to government officials, tax payers and other stakeholders that immense financial savings are attached to doing right by our children when they are young.
It is unfortunate that funding for parent training is not more abundant. Optimal outcomes for children with autism are predicated on the support of educated, informed and skillful parents. Promoting carryover, ensuring consistency, and enhancing skill development across all environments are crucial roles for parents, but parents require support and training to assume these crucial roles. Your stated concerns and insights about the dearth of services for adults are much appreciated, and reflect the challenges that we have here in the U.S as well.
Families of children with autism in New Brunswick are blessed. Keep fighting the good fight.
David Celiberti, Ph.D., BCBA-D, President
Association for Science in Autism Treatment"
The most advocacy focused organisation in New Brunswick was group, of which I was a founding member, called FACE ... Family Autism Center for Education. Despite the reference to Education in the title FACE was primarily an advocacy organization that. because of its advocacy focus, did not enjoy official charitable status. We met in my law office board room on King Street in Fredericton and we lobbied persistently online, through the "regular, mainstream" media such as CBC, Rogers Television, The Daily Gleaner and the Telegraph Journal. Eventually we were able to convince more reluctant members of the provincial Autism Society to join our advocacy efforts and we returned to the Autism Society New Brunswick. Together parents stood in front of the Legislature and other provincial government buildings holding signs and making our voices heard.
Ultimately we received conscientious, serious responses from high political leadership in the Conservative Bernard Lord government and subsequently in the Liberal Shawn Graham government. With responsive leadership from our provincial cabinets we were able, for a considerable period of time, to leap frog over the more bureaucratically inclined senior civil servants who wanted to go slow who lacked the understanding of the need for urgency in helping our autistic children.
As noted by ASAT's David Celiberti we were able to establish a strong early intervention autism service base here in New Brunswick. We were also successful in having our governments begin providing strong autism training to Teachers' Aides and Resource Teachers to assist autistic children in our schools. That fight was somewhat more difficult. "Educators" did not really see it as the place of parents to play a significant role in determining what services are available in NB schools. Again, we appealed to our political leadership and with solid information from local experts like Paul McDonnell and US sources like ASAT, the Office of the US Surgeon General and state autism reports from Maine, New York and California we were successful. We also used the tools at our disposal including appeals under our provincial Education Act and Human Rights Act to help our autistic children receive autism trained aides in our schools.
Strong parent advocates in British Columbia played a significant role in providing tools for New Brunswick parents to use in exerting political pressure here. The Hewko BC Supreme Court decision and the Auton BC Supreme Court and Auton BC Appeal Court decisions (until the latter was reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada) provided valuable tools to assist us in our advocacy here in NB. Ontario parents fighting for autism education services in the Deskin-Wynberg litigation were also of great assistance to our efforts here in NB.
New Brunswick parent advocacy was very successful in establishing the early intervention and school autism services here in NB. We intentionally started out by focusing on early intervention services and then moved on to the school years. Unfortunately the success we enjoyed in advocating for our children in early intervention and school services has not been repeated in the adult years. We are as we have been for many, many years largely bereft of any meaningful adult autism care residential care and treatment services. Our more severely impaired autistic adults will, if they are lucky, live in group homes staffed by people with no autism specific training and little if any professional oversight. Those, like my son, who are severely autistic AND developmentally challenged will probably have to live in hospital facilities, again, if they are lucky. New Brunswick has for many years ignored these serious needs of autistic adults although there are some signs of an awakening in the form of a pilot project involving the training of one service providers at one group home.
We also have to continue the battle to make our civil servant decision makers understand that some people with autism have other challenges which present themselves which can provide very serious risks to the safety of autistic adults. Many with autism and intellectual disability also suffer from seizures, some of which are life threatening. Some on the autism spectrum, including some with higher functioning levels also suffer from serious challenges like depression, challenges which may be made very difficult to address because of their autism disorders.
In Autism Awareness Month in Canada we still lack a meaningful National Autism Strategy. Here in New Brunswick our successes at early intervention are still recognized as in they were by ASAT in 2010 and by a mother who recently returned to NB from Ontario to open a Bistro in her hometown of Woodstock and because New Brunswick offered better autism services for her autistic son than those that were available in Ontario:
"Opening a restaurant, however, was not the motivation to bring McQuade back to Carleton County. She has a four-year-old son with autism, and she says the treatment in New Brunswick is more accessible and better than what was available to her in Ontario."
Many New Brunswick parents whose children are currently receiving early autism intervention services or school autism services may be unaware that it was parent advocacy that led to the creation of these services. We have to be vigilant to maintain and expand these services at the early and school years. And we absolutely have to work to bring to the attention of government the need for a full range of autism residential care services and for the end of policies of excluding adults with Aspergers/autism from other mental health services.