Family Support for Children With Autism
This month, a number of families of children with autism received a letter. The content of that letter has raised a lot of questions in the Manitoba Autism community.
In Manitoba, families of children with disabilities are supported by Children’s disAbility Services. Each child has a case manager, often referred to as a family services worker. This person’s job is to help families know what services are open to their child, and to help them access the services that best fit their needs. Their role is not to steer families towards a particular parenting style or program, but to help them find the help that they need, whatever they feel is best for their child.
Autism diagnoses in our province have gone up significantly, and our government has recognized an urgent need to reduce the wait list for family support. A new grant of five million dollars will in part be used to provide more staff for case management. Why was this month’s letter controversial? This expanded capacity is going to be in partnership with St. Amant. Many families of children with autism will be moving over to this service plan based at St. Amant, starting this spring.
Why was St. Amant chosen to fill this role? St. Amant has many years of experience supporting children on the autism spectrum. In addition to their ABA program and school, they have been the base of therapists in the Manitoba Possible program (formerly known as the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities). This outreach therapy program has always been separate from the behaviourally based ABA and school programs, and has had the role of supporting the development of children throughout the province. It is expected that St. Amant, with their experience in family service, will have the ability to recruit and train people and to manage the program well.
The intent is that nothing in the service plan or program philosophy will change. The role of these new family service workers will remain the same – to be advocates for children and families, and to operate out of a family or person-centred approach. This program will have no connection to the St. Amant ABA program, except for informing families of that option. Other options for childhood autism intervention will remain the same.
Will this change include rural families?
- Yes. Families in the Winnipeg region will have case managers based at St. Amant, and families in other regions will have locally hired case managers based in their region but connected to the St. Amant program.
How will this affect families of multiple children under CDS who may not be autistic? Will families of multiple children be split between agencies?
- No – families with children who have other disabilities will remain under the umbrella of CdS support.
Many parents are uncomfortable with the philosophy of ABA intervention. What if we aren’t pro-St. Amant? Will the St. Amant program support parents who are neuro-affirming?
- St. Amant case workers will have no connection to the ABA program, and will be trained to follow the same standards and practices as Children’s disAbility Services. Part of that training is to centre the wishes and needs of the child and his or her family in the way that support is offered, and to be advocates for the family.
What if families have a great relationship with their current case manager? Would they have the option to remain with that person to reduce stress on the family?
- Unfortunately, no.
Will this switch be an issue for families who homeschool?
- No. Schooling options remain the same, and are determined by the Department of Education and local school divisions.
What about self managed respite?
- Options for respite remain the same, and will be explained and offered by each family’s case manager as before the change.
Which children will be moved?
- Teenagers who are 15 or older by June 30 will remain with Children’s disAbility Services. As well, families who have children with disabilities other than autism will have all their children remain with CdS. There won’t be any families with children in both agencies.
Want to know more? There are three ways you can get your questions answered:
- St. Amant is hosting information sessions on March 1, 2 and 3 at different times.
- Talk to your current case manager. They will be able to let you know about changes specific to your family, and the timing of those changes.
- You can call Children’s Disability Services at (204) 945-8311. They have made this number available to answer questions arising from this change.