Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mr. Graham's Autism Promise Revisited

During the election campaign then opposition leader Shawn Graham made a very specific promise as set out in an email to Autism Society New Brunswick President Lila Barry. It was a commitment to provide UNB-CEL training for an additional 100 Teachers' Assistants and Methods and Resource teachers each year for the next four years. The commitment was not to have Education Department personnel train current TA's in house. It was to provide UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training.

The UNB-CEL course originated in meetings of the steering committee which had been struck to establish the proposed UNB Autism Centre. The input of autism society representatives, education and psychology professors at UNB ,as well as the business acumen of the College of Extended Learning all contributed to the initial concept for the program. Since then the UNB-CEL personnel have worked together with government to provide training to preschool Autism Support Workers and to Clinical Supervisors working with them in the autism agencies. Some of those personnel have migrated into the education system. But the number of autism trained TA's and teachers working with New Brunswick's autistic student population is nowhere near sufficient to enable those students to receive a quality education, hence the efforts over several years from the Autism Society New Brunswick which resulted in Mr. Graham's autism training campaign pledge. While the ASNB remains hopeful that the pledge will be honored there have also been mixed signals received which indicate that student services professionals, and others, in the Department of Education have not yet abandoned their intentions of providing much lower quality in house training for TA's.

The commitment to provide UNB-CEL Autism training has long met resistance from some education department officials. When ASNB officials met with new Education Minister Lamrock we were presented with a list of 7 training options. One of those 7 options was the commitment made by Mr. Graham. The other 6 were a variety of other watered down options based to one extent or another on the provision of autism training to TA's by department personnel. Since then Minister Lamrock has reiterated his commitment to Mr. Graham's promise, subject to budgetary requirements. But we have also received information that the Department's in house autism training plans are going ahead.

What is wrong with providing autism training in-house rather than through the UNB-CEL course? Assurance of quality of training is the most important consideration. A teacher in a regular classroom has an education degree from a university. The TA's who in fact work one to one with autistic students have high school and maybe 1 or 2 years of post secondary education. They too require some credible training to ensure that autistic students receive a real education. The ASNB has always compromised by seeking to have these TA's receive UNB based training not demanding full teaching credentials. Now the cost conscious Department of Education is pushing for its own in house training in place of UNB's which is provided by a variety of academics with autism expertise and who are not subject to direction or pressure from Department officials while providing the training. Department officials who provide training lack the same degree of expertise in all the necessary aspects of autism and autism interventions and are subject to direction from their superiors in the Department.

There will likely be a budget soon in New Brunswick. It is also likely that there will be some UNB-CEL autism training budgeted for as promised by Mr. Graham. But the 4 year commitment was necessary to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of properly trained personnel working with autistic students in New Brunswick schools. The department cost saving strategy appears to be based on training as many TA's as possible in house now and providing them with on the job training while the first year of training is provided for some. Then, the Department will probably take the position that the remaining 3 years of the UNB-CEL autism training commitment are unnecessary.

I appreciate that my comments are speculative, that I am reading tea leaves, and that a mild breeze can scatter tea leaves in all directions. I hope I am wrong. I hope the Department of Education finally takes seriously the education of autistic school children instead of simply reacting to public pressure or looking for a cheap way out. Autistic children do not need, and can not afford, any further dilution of their education. They, like other children, deserve some properly trained assistance in their learning experiences. I have no doubt about the sincerity and commitment of the new Minister of Education. But as for those who report to the Minister? The future will tell.

From: Graham, Shawn (LEG)
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2006 2:37 PM
To: lila barry
Subject: Liberal Platform

Dear Ms. Barry:

Thank you for your letter and for sharing your concerns with me. In our Liberal election platform that will be released this week, we are committing to the implementation of the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Committee on Autism released in November 2001. Although we realize this document is now nearly five years old, it does provide a basis on which to develop, in partnership with the stakeholders, a strategy that will assist children with autism from early childhood and into adulthood.

As well, we will take two concrete steps to address the immediate needs of children with autism in two areas: a case management process and UNB-CEL autism training.

A new Liberal government will:

1. Integrate services for young children and their families by enhancing and expanding the Early Childhood Initiatives Program to ensure a smooth transition into public school for children identified as at risk or those with special needs, such as autism.

2. Provide UNB-CEL autism training for 100 additional teaching assistants and Methods and Resource teachers each year for four years.

I commend you and the members of the Autism Society of New Brunswick on your tireless advocacy on behalf of children with autism. You are truly making a difference in many lives. Please feel free to contact me at any time.

Yours truly,

Shawn Graham

Leader of the Official Opposition

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