The following letter appears in the May 13, 2010 Letters to the Editor Section of Fredericton Daily Gleaner
and is an edited for length version of a post published recently on Facing Autism in New Brunswick and forwarded to our political and public service leaders.
Residential care and treatment facility needed
Re: Help for autistic adults in New Brunswick
I am writing as the father of a 14-year-old son with severe Autistic Disorder and within 48 hours of the deaths of severely autistic 22-year-old Benjamin McLatchie, and his father Daniel McLatchie, in nearby Gray, Me.
The Maine state medical examiner's office has ruled the case a murder-suicide. The father shot and killed his son and himself.
Reports describe the father as a caring, stay-at-home man who despaired for his son's future, in a state with inadequate residential care for autistic adults, after his own inevitable passing.
There is speculation that the father's fears and despair might have prompted this tragedy.
Many parents, including here in New Brunswick, fear what awaits our autistic children after our passing.
In New Brunswick, the governments of former-premier Bernard Lord and current Premier Shawn Graham have both been world leaders in helping our autistic children. The same cannot be said with respect to autistic adults.
Autistic children aged 2-5 can receive government funded early intervention program from trained service providers. The Stan Cassidy Centre's autism pediatric tertiary care team is of great assistance to many autistic children.
The UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program has received expert recognition for its program and has trained several years worth of early intervention workers, teacher assistants and resource teachers in autism specific interventions.
Many autistic children have received the benefit of a flexible, student-oriented approach to educating autistic children in neighbourhood schools, where those autistic children, who can learn in a regular classroom, do so. Those, like my son, who require more individualized curriculum and training methods and place of learning adaptations, do so in environments structured for their specific needs and strengths.
In adult care, however, New Brunswick has been stalled.
We have not established a residential care and treatment system that would provide assurance of a decent, respectful future for those autistic adults who will live dependent on the care of others - adults like Benjamin McLatchie in Maine.
Group homes are not adequate for all of New Brunswick's autistic population.
Right now, many parents are struggling desperately, and facing severe challenges, while trying to care for their adult autistic children at home.
The most severely, low functioning autistic adults live at the psychiatric hospital in Campbellton, far from parents and loving family members.
Of urgent importance has been the need for a geographically centralized combined residential care and treatment facility for autistic adults in Fredericton - close to the resources and expertise of the Stan Cassidy Centre, the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program, and the University of New Brunswick Department of Psychology.
Harold L. Doherty