Sunday, September 02, 2007

Canada's Autism Wasteland To Take First Step Forward

It is hard to believe that Canada has a province with NO autism program in place at all but that appears to be the case in Saskatchewan where the "Faces of Autism" conference is being presented by Newfoundland native Carolyn Forsey on October 26-27, in Meadow Lake Saskatchewan, some 10 years after similar advocacy and awareness efforts began in Newfoundland. The conference is hosted by Saskatchewan Health, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Prairie North Regional Health Authority and Northwest School Division #203 and will feature author, teacher, trainer, keynote presenter and consultant Barbara T. Doyle MS and Ronald Leaf, Ph.D licensed psychologist and co-author of A Work in Progress, a book on behavioral treatment.

Forsey said Saskatchewan is far behind the rest of the country when it comes to autism support.

“In Newfoundland in the beginning they were diagnosed with autism and told to go home and forget about it, and Saskatchewan parents, that’s what they are living with,” she said. “In Newfoundland we began this process and it’s sad that ten years later Saskatchewan is going through the same thing.”

She added that today, Newfoundland has child management specialists and behaviour specialists to work with autistic children, and the government continuously puts money towards autism intervention.
Currently, Saskatchewan Families for Effective Autism Treatment (SASKFEAT) is working towards getting the much needed support for families in the province.

“Saskatchewan is the only province that does not have a provincial program set in place for ASD,” explained Ferguson. “There’s nothing in the province of Saskatchewan for the parents.” Winkler said this conference is a step in the right direction, but it is just the beginning. “I think it needs a focus, and I think this conference will help do this,” he said.

“The government needs to be pushed and there needs to be a focus and recognition of difficulties faced by the parents of people suffering.”

Forsey said she hopes that at the very least, this conference will give the parents and those affected by autism a little hope.
“We need to tell the parents, you know what, we’re going to start to try to do something really good for these kids,” she said. “Parents are going to leave there with a sense of hope. That’s the whole premise of this conversation. They’re not alone."

As someone who has been actively involved with autism advocacy in New Brunswick for the last 8 years I can empathize with the predicament of Saskatchewan families who have such a big hill to climb. Fortunately they should be able to catch up more quickly through emulation of, or at least by learning from, existing programs in other Canadian provinces and US states.

Of course it would be easier if there were an injection of funds to assist the people of Saskatchewan construct programs even remotely similar to those of oil rich, next door neighbor, Alberta. With the federal government of Stephen Harper, oblivious to the needs of autistic Canadians, that could be difficult. The mythological Big Foot has a better chance of getting assistance from Mr Harper's Conservatives.


Anonymous said...

you are a true advocate i must say. have your efforts resulted in any changes there?

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Unknown said...

I am one of a group that have been active autism advocates.

We have made some substantial progress. We have pre-school funding for autism interventions albeit not sufficient levels to provide the Lovaas 40 hours. We also have agencies providing the interventions using personnel trained for the most part through the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program which we played a part in establishing.

At the school level we have also achieved training of Resource Teachers and Teacher Assistants/Aides, also at UNB-CEL AIT, although we still need 3 more years of a recorded commitment from Premier Graham fulfilled before we are fully up to speed.

Equally as important we have fought to encourage reforms in education from a philosophy based approaced of placing all children, including profoundly autistic children in the mainstream classrooms, to an evidence based approach of looking at what works for each child, and developing plans which accommodate the manner in which the child learns best, where he or she learns best.

Our biggest challenge lies ahead. New Brunswick's services and residential care for autistic youth s and adults are abysmal. We literally ship some of our autistic population to other provinces and even to the US for proper residential based treatment. We are preparing now for discussion with provincial public servants on this area.

Anonymous said...

well keep plugging along as it sounds like you have made some really good strides. it is a shame you have to fight so hard to get good services.

Unknown said...

Good luck with your autism advocacy efforts m2m.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am Jennifer Nichols and I wrote the article about the autism conference in the Meadow Lake Progress. I heard from Carolyn Forsey that you had posted my story on your blog so I had to check it out. I am so glad that I could do something to help. I just wanted to let you know, though, that the link to the Progress site does not work. To get to the story, go to:

Also, I did follow up stories after the conference and I also wrote an editorial about it if you want to check that out. You can just go the archives on our site and search "autism". I hope that helps! If you want to contact me, you can at Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


I just found out how to blog you back!!!!!!!!!! Amazing work you are doing. Fight the good fight.Dr. Ron Leaf from Autism Partnership is still training us here in Saskatchewan.

Carolyn Forsey