Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Autistic Children "Rotting On The Vine" In Ontario - Why Not Consider "the New Brunswick Autism Model"?

In Wait list for autism therapy growing, critics charge the reports that "the wait list of autistic children who are eligible to receive intensive behavioural intervention therapy, or IBI, reached 1,148 on March 31, up from 985 last year." NDP critics argue that the government is moving at a slow, even glacial, pace resulting in many children "rotting on the vine" in the words of NDP critic Andrea Horwath who was also quoting parents she had met at a town hall meeting. The article describes spending increases by the McGuinty government but does not really describe a plan for getting children off the autism wait lists.

When I was in Ontario last week, as part of the Medicare for Autism NOW! campaign, I had the privilege of meeting some Ontario parents and discussing autism realities in Ontario. I heard of autistic children facing bureaucratic obstacles, waiting on lists for treatment only to "age out" before receiving treatment; or after just getting started. I mentioned the New Brunswick autism model as one that Ontario might want to consider.

In New Brunswick autism services are far from perfect but we have come far with the effort of determined parents, a sympathetic public and ... responsive political leaders. We have also been fortunate that political leaders of both major political parties in New Brunswick, aside from some exceptions, have tended to be genuine in their desire to help autistic children. So what is "the New Brunswick autism service model" and why is it working? (Yes, there are problems and the need to continually improve but generally we are much better off than Ontario.)

The key to "the New Brunswick autism model" is the University of New Brunswick Autism Intervention Training program offered through UNB's College of Extended Learning. The program provides training for autism support workers and clinical supervisors to provide evidence based interventions to children with autism during the pre-school years. Those interventions are provided by agencies which must be approved by the Department of Social Development and must be accountable for the quality of the services provided. The UNB-CEL AIT has also begun providing similar training to teacher/education aides and resource teachers. We are no longer debating whether ABA can be provided in New Brunswick schools as they are in Ontario. Here it has been happening. My son, Conor, has received ABA based instruction for the past 4 years. The teacher aides providing the instruction in school have been trained at UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. While Discrete Trial Training is used for academic instruction, more general ABA principles are also employed in settings such as the school gym.

The UNB-CEL AIT program began as a response to a call for tenders by the Department of Family and Community Services (now the Department of Social Development) to provide pre-school autism intervention services in New Brunswick. It began, literally, at a meeting of the proposed UNB Autism Centre committee of which I was a member. Asked whether the College of Extended Learning could be of assistance Anne Higgins director of professional development at UNB-CEL listed the administrative milestones that would have to be met. Then, like few people I have ever seen, she and her team at UNB-CEL got the things done to meet those targets. The curriculum and instruction quality were overseen and assured by Clinical Psychologist and Professor Emeritus (Psychology) Paul McDonnell. With other Autism Society and parent reps on the committee we saw the program established from the outset and have complete confidence in the quality and integrity of the program. The program is continually evolving with input from the Departments of Social Development and Education and from the autism community.

A couple of years ago I was offered employment in the Toronto area with a labour organization whose leadership I had already worked with. It was really a dream job but I turned it down. In part because I grew up attending as many as three schools in one year as an "army brat" and my two sons had both had the opportunity to attend the same grade school and middle school without moving from place to place. But the biggest reason for not wanting to move was the fact that Conor was receiving ABA based school instruction from an aide trained at UNB-CEL using programs designed and overseen by a teacher who had received the Clinical Supervisor training at UNB-CEL. He has now had almost 4 years of such education and I am glad, for his sake, I decided to stay in New Brunswick.

I don't know if the Ontario bureaucrats would consider developing the New Brunswick model in Ontario for pre-school and school age children. Nor do I know if parents would want that. In Ontario they seem hung up on the IBI versus ABA labels a distinction without a real difference. But if autistic children are "rotting on the vine" in Ontario they might want to at least take a look at what we have done right here in New Brunswick.

If the people in Ontario are interested in what has happened in New Brunswick they might want to consider the CAUCE 2008 sessions, session five, on May 30 at the University of Western Ontario. Anne Higgins and Sheila Burt from UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training will be participating and speaking about the pivotal role of UNB-CEL in providing multi-partnered, systematized autism intervention services.


BlastFurnace said...

While I'm a supporter of Dalton McGuinty in most respects, the callous treatment of autism patients and their being denied access to such potentially helpful treatments is an absolute disgrace.

Suzanne said...

I wonder: why don't they provide autism-only classes/schools? I looked around for my daughter in Ottawa. There's one such pre-school, but you have to be very autistic to get in (my daughter is PDD-NOS).

Mainstreaming is fine, but I think my daughter could use something a little more intensive.

My daughter did go to an "assessment Kindergarten" which is for any disabled kid, but it wasn't autism-specific. She had to be mainstreamed (with IEP and EA) in grade one.

Taline said...

The reason why the Ontario government has made a distinction between ABA and IBI is so that they are successful in creating the illusion that IBI can't be done in the schools (in their views). This allows them to maintain the program under the social services ministry which has a limited budget and a limited mandate. If ABA/"IBI" were implemented in the education system, the Education Act would not allow the government to get away with waitlists and it would have to be fully funded for each child who requires it up to the age of 21.