Friday, August 12, 2011

With a Perfect Storm Approaching for NB Autistic Students Some Tips for Obtaining an Autism Trained Education Assistant

If your child with autism is moving into the school system you may want a trained TA to continue the progress achieved in the pre-school years. If your autistic child is already in the school system and you believe he/she would benefit from the help of an autism trained TA these tips might also help. No matter where you are in New Brunswick whether in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton, Bathurst Miramichi or Edmundston do not hestitate to email me at if you have a question.

I  have been an active member of autism advocacy  organizations in New Brunswick for over a dozen years. I say advocacy because the focus of   efforts I have been involved with have been to obtain effective, evidence based help for children and adults with autism.  I have received no salary or income of any kind for my autism advocacy and I have never sought a pat on the head from government officials (not that they would have wanted to anyway) Mostly I am the father of two boys one of whom is severely  autistic. Like everyone else, I am continually advocating  for a trained Education Assistant to work with my autistic son.  

I once again offer an article I first published in 2006 in the Autism Society New Brunswick newsletter to give parents some ideas to consider in advocating for an Education Assistant for their child. It is offered at a time when I believe it will be increasingly difficult to obtain a quality autism trained Education Assistant to work with a New Brunswick autistic student.

In Conor's case his mother and I have sought Education Assistants with the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program.  This New Brunswick developed program has received recognition from international autism experts like Dr. David Celiberti and Dr. Eric Larsson. Between 500 and 600 TA's as they were then called, were trained at UNB-CEL before the Department of Education in order to reduce costs and increase department control over training of assistants, abandoned the program in favor of a watered down version taught in house without the quality and integrity assurances provided by the UNB-CEL training.  

Whatever you hope for in the Education Assistant working with your child it will be more difficult now with cuts being made this year in the numbers of Education Assistants.  Unfortunately the  new collective agreement entered into between CUPE Local 2745 and the Province of New Brunswick continues the promotion of adult interests, over the interests of children with autism and other disabilities requiring accommodation.  The situation is worse now with the Alward government and its unofficial Education Minister Gordon Porter and his unofficial branch of the Education Department ... the New Brunswick Association for Community Living. 

Despite doing good work in many areas, and making many  positive contributions, Mr. Porter and NBACL have for decades  promoted a mainstream classroom inclusion for all model of inclusive education and have resisted accommodations sought by NB autism advocates.  They have at times resisted with open hostility efforts by autism advocates seeking learning accommodation in separate quieter areas of local schools from autism trained TA's.  Their ideas have changed or modernized very little during the past decades.   

There is currently a review of New Brunswick's inclusive education system being conducted by Mr. Porter and those who have participated in NBACL.  The review will undoubtedly result in a report which confirms their decades old ideology, cuts costs to the Department of Education, and protects the interests of untrained  Education Assistants over the interests of children with autism.  There will probably be fewer and fewer Education Assistants with quality autism training. They will increasingly be pressured to work in mainstream classrooms which will not necessarily be appropriate for some students with autism disorders. Mainstream classroom inclusion will make it less likely a student with autism will receive an EA  with proper autism training and the individual instruction required in some instances. 

These factors will make it very easy for local education authorities to justify, even glorify, cutting proper training and retention of autism trained Education Assistants. There is a perfect storm brewing and parents will have to fight even  harder to ensure their autistic children receive the education services they require. 

Following are some tips I originally posted in an Autism Society New Brunswick newsletter in 2006. They are my advice as a parent (not as legal advice), and as general information.  For those seeking help in obtaining an Education Assistant you may want to give them some consideration. You may also want to seek     assistance from other parents with an autism advocacy background. I did. They were a big help in getting an   Education Assistant  for our  son.

1. Document your child’s condition and school requirements. If your child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder make sure that the school has a copy of the diagnosis. This may seem obvious but in some cases the school and district have been able to point out that they were unaware of any actual diagnosis of autism disorder.

2. Medical, Psychological or Therapeutic Assessments – If you think your child needs a Teacher's Assistant to learn in the school environment you should ask any pediatrician, psychologist, occupational therapist, speech language therapist or behavioural interventionist who is working with your child if they agree and would provide a written recommendation for a TA and present their recommendations to the school.

3. Be a Parent Advocate – Most parents know their autistic child better than most professionals. Do not be afraid to speak up – politely – but without fear - to express your view of what your child requires.

4. Autism Advocates – If you know an autism advocate or fellow parent of an autistic child who would be willing to attend a meeting with the school you should bring them along. They can provide you with moral support and confirmation of your experiences as a parent in describing what your child requires.

5. Safety – For many autistic children a TA is a must for safety reasons alone and this must be stressed if it is true for your child. An autistic child may not appreciate the many dangers posed by school, playground and nearby streets.

6. Individual Learning Method – If your child requires an individual based learning method using Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) techniques, or other individual based instructions, emphasize this with the school. For ABA in particular there is a great deal of professional literature about the need for one to one instruction for autistic children.

7. IEP or SEP – If the school or district refuse a TA for your child do not sign off on the IEP/SEP for your child unless you agree with that decision. Or if you do sign put a note beside your signature stating that you still require a TA for your child. Otherwise the school and district will argue that you agreed that a TA was not necessary.

8. Appeal – If a TA is denied for your child be ready to appeal right away under the Education Act. The School should have informational pamphlets available and forms explaining the appeal process to you. You might also want to consider hiring a lawyer to work with you on the appeal process.

Conclusion – Preparation, pressure and persistence are all required to obtain and keep a TA for your autistic child. It is a long tough fight and it is one that almost all of us have to go through to one extent or another. Do not overreact emotionally or unduly antagonize school officials. You need their help and most want to help. Getting overheated gives an excuse to the few who do not want to help to refuse what you are looking for. Stay calm and persist.

Harold L Doherty

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