Conor, anxious to get to Leo Hayes High School, to the resource center with other challenged kids for socialization, and to his individual learning area for his ABA based instruction, watches the clock this morning. Conor votes YES for flexible inclusion with meaningful access to learning.
Minutes before departure Conor, on his own initiative, brings Dad his sneakers to make sure I don't forget to drive him to school on time.
Honourable Jody Carr Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development
Honourable Dorothy Shephard Minister of Healthy and Inclusive Communities
Dear Honourable Ministers:
I am forwarding the above composite picture of my son Conor, seated in the kitchen watching the clock at 7:30 am this morning. Conor, now 16 years old, has severe Autistic Disorder and is assessed with profound developmental delays. He was not placed on a "time out" chair for having behaved badly. He was sitting there of his own choice because he was, as he is every day, anxious to get to school at Leo Hayes High School, an experience he truly loves and one which he misses during the summer months.
I encouraged Conor to engage in other activities instead of just sitting on the chair and he did so. At precisely 7:55 though Conor, again on his own initiative, brought me a pair of my sneakers and handed them to me, as a polite reminder to Dad to get ready to take him to school. To the far left of the picture is a red object. It is his school back pack including his lunch pack which he packs the night before and placed in the fridge. In the morning, on his own initiative, he places the lunch pack inside the back pack and places them near the exit door to ensure that it is with him when Dad drives him to school in the morning.
With these actions Conor indicates clearly what a positive experience his flexible inclusive education at Leo Hayes HS is for him. Conor does not, at our request receive his instruction in a regular classroom. Some autistic children can prosper in a regular classroom and some, like Conor, require instruction outside the regular classroom in a quieter space where he is not overwhelmed by noise and other distractions.
Conor started his schooling in a regular classroom and came home every day with self inflicted bite marks on his hands and wrists. (self injurious behavior is a recognized condition commonly associated with autism disorders). Once removed the biting ceased and Conor received his instruction in an individualized area in grade school, middle school and high school. His instruction has been provided by education assistants/teacher aides trained at the excellent UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program.
Conor's socialization has NOT been impaired by these arrangements. Throughout school he has, in consultation with us, his parents, been involved in various outings and activities within his abilities including some specified gym activities, swimming (his favorite), outings like apple picking (another favorite) and last year he even attended a play put on at Fredericton's playhouse. Other students have ALWAYS greeted Conor warmly at every level of school. Some have even sought him out at our home in order to say hello to him outside of school. At Tim Horton restaurants Conor has been greeted by staff who are were students at school and knew him through Best Buddies. I underline these facts because it is important to realize that full regular mainstream inclusion is NOT necessary to ensure a full social learning experience for children with severe challenges like my son.
One of the greatest socialization assets for Conor has been the Resource Center at the Leo Hayes High School. The RC is well staffed with trained experienced personnel that know how to manage children with extra needs in as stress free a manner as possible. It also provides a variety of tools and sharing of information directly by people who are actually working directly with challenged children. Stigmatization does not occur by placing challenged children in a resource center for parts of the day. Stigmatization and outright harm occurs by pretending that all children regardless of cognitive level and regardless of disability based sensory and behavioral challenges, must receive instruction in the same area as their chronological "peers".
I have made these statements again on Conor's behalf, as I have made them throughout his education because of the constant threat posed to the flexible mode of inclusion that has benefited him in his education. The ideologically based every child in the regular classroom model to which this current administration and its most trusted advisers subscribe would be detrimental and harmful to my son if inflicted upon him, if his ABA based learning in an alternative area or if his socialization, security and happiness in the Leo Hayes High School are targeted for elimination.
Conor demonstrates the success of the current flexible model of inclusion, of the ABA instruction he has received outside the regular classroom, of the security and opportunity for socialization that the Leo Hayes High School Resource Center provides. Please do not ignore Conor's story while making decisions affecting his future and the future of other children who need accommodation outside the regular classroom.
Although I am a lawyer by profession I try to avoid making legal arguments in education discussion since they can unfortunately lead to confrontation when cooperation and understanding are so badly needed to ensure proper education and development of children. Having said that I will provide you, with respect, to two links to documents summarizing leading precedents in Canadian jurisdiction concerning the need meaningful access to education of children with disabilities written by Yude Henteleff QC a distinguished lawyer and Order of Canada member who has represented many disability organizations in Canada. Without getting too detailed I believe these documents can be summarized by saying that case law has established that an ideological insistence on regular classroom placement of all children regardless of disability considerations, and without providing alternative arrangements to accommodate their disability based challenges can constitute unlawful discrimination:
I would ask you foremost though to simply look at these pictures of Conor and take my word as his parent, as a long time autism advocate and representative of the Autism Society New Brunswick during the MacKay and Ministerial Committee inclusive education reviews (and current acting ASNB President). Not all children, and certainly not ALL autistic children function well in the regular classroom. The ASNB position that children should be educated in a manner consistent with an evidence based determination of their best interests is consisted with the policies of the Canadian Learning Disabilities Association. It is also consistent with the first section of the PNB definition of Inclusive Education that resulted from the Ministerial Committee review of inclusive education:
An evolving and systemic model of inclusive education where all children reach their full learning potential and decisions are based on the individual needs of the student and founded on evidence."
(underlining added - HLD)
I ask both of you Honourable Ministers to be faithful to the above definition of inclusive education fashioned after years of consultation conducted by Ministers of the Lord and Graham governments and examined the evidence of my son and other children with needs that require education outside the regular classroom. Please continue the option for individualized education outside the regular classroom for those like my son who require that arrangement. And please do not eliminate valuable, proven resources like the Leo Hayes High School Resource Center that have contributed so much in the way of socialization, security and friendship for my son and others with similar needs.
Harold L Doherty