Autism Week in the Brandon Sun

An election is coming.

We are at a critical point in terms of supporting the families of children with autism in this province – many fall through the cracks, and ADAPT has been encouraging our government – and potential new provincial leaders – to consider how the system might work better for all families and their children, regardless of location and age of diagnosis.

Here’s what our leaders are saying, in recent letters to the editor published in the Brandon Sun:

 From Leanne Rowat, Conservative MLA:

The NDP has a history of breaking promises, like the 2011 election promise not to raise the PST. In fact, the premier then called the idea “ridiculous.” But in 2013, the NDP hiked the PST from seven to eight per cent.
Perhaps one of the lesser-known commitments from the NDP’s 2011 election campaign was to families of children with autism. That commitment was to provide timely access to a therapy called applied behaviour analysis (ABA) for children. In fact, the NDP went further in their efforts to sway voters who desperately wanted access to this important treatment and committed to “work toward a no wait list policy” for ABA programs.
We now know this commitment, like the promise not to raise the PST, is just another NDP deception.
Parents and family members of children with autism describe these kids as trapped and see ABA therapy as their only hope. The wait list for this treatment has grown to its highest level ever, with 68 families in line. Families of children with autism don’t have time to waste. If kids don’t begin the treatment when they’re young, its effectiveness is greatly reduced and they eventually lose eligibility for it — as 25 already have, while 30 more are at risk.
Manitobans are tired of the same old NDP broken promises, like their commitment not to raise the PST or to provide autism treatments to children. These children and their families are suffering the consequences. I’m optimistic that with your help, a change for the better is coming.

Leanne Rowat
Opposition critic for children and youth opportunities; Progressive Conservative MLA for Riding Mountain
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 6, 2015

Kerry Irvin-Ross’s reply:

In their most recent letter to the editor (Brandon Sun, Nov. 6), once again Brian Pallister and the PC Party of Manitoba are deceiving voters and trying to score political points at the expense of vulnerable families. Manitobans should look past the politics and examine the facts.
The reality is that this NDP government has always been committed to supporting children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. We continue to increase support for clinical services and school-based services to support children with ASD.
Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning provides about $23 million to support these school-based services. Manitoba Family Services provides an additional $14 million for services and supports for children with ASD, bringing the total support for ASD programs to almost $37 million.
As a result, the number of children assisted in collaboration with service providers such as St. Amant has increased by 50 per cent since 2008. We have hired five new autism early intervention specialists since 2012, including two in the Eastman and Parkland regions, and our increased funding of St. Amant allows almost 1,500 children with ASD to attend school every year. While other provinces are cutting funding for applied behaviour analysis programs, in Manitoba, funding for these programs has increased by 50 per cent.
In contrast, Brian Pallister has already announced his plan to cut $550 million from the budget, which would drastically affect front-line services for children and families.
For our part, we understand that we have more to do to meet the needs of all families, but unlike Brian Pallister and the PC Party of Manitoba, we have an actual plan for getting there. We are seeing concrete results and remain committed to improving the services for families with children living with ASD.

Kerri Irvin-Ross
Minister for Child and Family Services
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 13, 2015

Our Thoughts:

In her letter to the editor on November 6 regarding the lack of autism services for children, Leanne Rowat misses several points.

She is right that it is unconscionable that there are children with autism who do not see the support that they need. She is also right that early intervention sets children up for greater success and independence.

Applied Behavior Analysis is certainly a recognized and often helpful way of supporting the growth of young children with autism. But it isn’t the only research-based approach, and it isn’t the only option in Manitoba. However, it is the only option that continues support into the school years, and if a child is diagnosed after age 4, there are NO autism therapy options for families.

Approximately half of the families of a child with autism find that ABA is not for them, even if it were more accessible, and many children are growing and learning successfully using a developmental approach (such as RDI and DIR/Floortime) where parents are trained to work with their child through everyday activities. The wait lists for these programs are just as long as those for ABA, and they are less available outside of Winnipeg. But they could easily be made available with the use of videoconferencing and online communication. They are also much cheaper than ABA. Support could continue past the age of 5 at minimal cost.

However, the mess that we are in is in part due to the government’s choice to throw all their eggs into one ABA basket. For some reason they refuse to expand the availability or quality of these other programs. Doing so would use our resources more effectively while providing families with an opportunity to choose an intervention that works for them, and provide help at any age. It’s never too late to make a difference.

My family tried ABA for three years. It taught our daughter to do some things, and then we realized it wasn’t helping her in the way she needed. We switched to the other options, and now both our school-age children with autism are thriving.

Deborah Dykstra
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 12, 2015

Community Living Brandon:

Leanne Rowat is correct to identify gaps in service for families with children who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  There are several well researched and respected approaches to treating autism, and families should have the opportunity to choose and access the model which best suits their child. This opportunity should be available immediately on diagnosis, as early intervention is critical to the treatment for any child with autism.  Long waiting lists, and lack of early intervention mean a less positive future for the child, and a more challenging future for the family unit.
    Families in Westman have also identified a lack of support once their children reach school age. Behavioural challenges which occur in the school years can be met by resources in the City of Winnipeg which do not exist rurally. The Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Center provides on site consultation to families and schools, and offers in patient treatment. There is no equivalent resource in Westman, and families struggle greatly as a result.
    Families also have difficulty accessing before and after school care for youth over the age of 12, and recreational options for their children, due to the need for direct support staff to make attendance possible.
   A coordinated and equitable system of support must be created to ensure the inclusion of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This starts with a choice of the best form of early intervention, and continues with appropriate support through to adulthood. This will provide an adult with autism the preparation to be a contributing member of our community.
Debby Dandy
Executive Director, Community Living Brandon
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 20, 2015

Let’s keep the conversation going.  Barrier-Free Manitoba and Abilities Manitoba are spearheading an effort to keep disability issues relevant in the upcoming election.  You can find out how to help at the Disability Matters: Vote 2016 website.  Also, plan to be at the legislature on Thursday, December 3, from 11-noon.  It’s a chance to celebrate International Persons with Disabilities Day, and let provincial candidates know that issues of concern to us have people behind them.


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