Monday, September 04, 2006

MacKay Inclusion Report Recommends Exclusion of Autistic Children

The MacKay Inclusion Report is being hailed as a roadmap for the strengthening of inclusive education in New Brunswick. For autistic children, the MacKay Report recommendations look good on first reading but underlying all of them is a single characteristic – delay. The effect of this unnecessary, and unnaceptable, delay would be to exclude autistic school children from a real education for a period of 4-5 years.

MacKay recommends, 46(a), development of a provincial autism strategy – to report in no later than 2 years. Then it recommends, 46(b), that within 1 year of completion of the provincial autism strategy, the government review responses to autism in other provinces and review the pros and cons of the different models used to respond. We are now up to 3 years of delay. Assuming that the MacKay timelines are rigidly adhered to and that the autism strategy study does not fall prey to bureaucratic inertia and stalling there would still be further time required to implement the strategy, a minimum of 1 to 2 years. Essentially, the MacKay Report recommends waiting 4-5 years before ensuring that autistic children receive a real education. For the autistic children affected by MacKay’s ponderous delays those years will never be recovered. Their lives will never be as full and rich as they might have been had they received a real education during those years.

Sadly, these recommendations are unnecessary. They do not reflect the work that has been done in New Brunswick in the past several years, the Interdepartmental Committee that took almost 3 years to review the delivery of autism services, the meetings between the Autism Society New Brunswick and several Ministers of Education, the Dialogue on Education meetings that have taken place or the development by the Department of Education, in conjunction with the Autism Society New Brunswick and the Family Autism Centre for Education, of the Educating Students with Autism Handbook.

The MacKay Report also largely ignored the development by the University of New Brunswick and the College of Extended Learning of a nationally recognized autism intervention training program which is even now training 80 Teachers Assistants and 9 Resource Teachers in instruction of autistic children. With 1000 autistic students of varying degrees of severity in New Brunswick schools, however, there is an urgent need for at least another 4-500 to be trained. Autistic school children can not wait 4-5 years for still more studies to be done. They, like all students, deserve a real education, and they deserve it now.

These MacKay recommendations for educating autistic children are not based on developments on the ground in New Brunswick and they would in fact exclude autistic children from receiving a real education while more unnecessary studies are done. They should be given the weight they deserve. They should be discarded.

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