Yesterday I read with concern a report in the Telegraph-Journal in which Education Minister Kelly Lamrock announced that the Liberal government will provide autism training to 100 Autism Support Workers/Teachers Aides who work with autistic children over the course of the government's mandate and that the training might be provided by Department personnel. I received a call last evening from another journalist who had spoken with Mr. Lamrock and confirmed that information. This makes a great Public Relations headline for the Graham government but actually means that Premier Graham will not be honoring a commitment he made during the election campaign when he stated in two separate emails to Autism Society New Brunswick representatives that:
"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."
There is a real need for trained TA/Autism Support Workers. The last estimate received by the Autism Society New Brunswick indicated that there are approximately 1000 autistic students in New Brunswick schools. Many of those students need the help of Teachers Aides/Assistants, some for safety reasons alone. For these students to actually learn they need the help of aides who are specially trained to assist them. With attrition and other factors the 100 per year for 4 years would probably not have met the need completely. It was a compromise figure but 100 trained personnel over 4 years will not begin to meet the need.
The decision to train within the Department instead of through the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program is also a serious departure from Mr. Graham's promise. The ASNB has received information that this in house training is already under way. The Department does not have the expertise within the Department to provide any where near the quality of training necessary to for Autism Support Workers to properly function as Teachers Aides to children with autism. Nor do they have a proper program established for that purpose. The training provided will be provided by Department autism consultants whose pay checks are signed by the government and whose careers are dependent on government. The pressures and priorities of government will have a negative influence on the training received by the TA's. This will result in a serious dilution of the learning experience of autistic children.
As parents we will have to make do with the reality of poorly trained or non-existent TA's for autistic children. We will have to continue to find our own means of working to improve our children's education. We have to because we have no choice.
Unlike Mr. Graham we can not abandon our commitment to our autistic children.