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Autism Education: New Brunswick Educators Plan to Abandon Quality Autism Training for Aides Working with Autistic Students

Posted Jul 06 2009 5:43pm
I have written often, and with great pride, about New Brunswick's Autism Service Delivery model for autistic students and pre-schoolers. NB's ASD model has been presented at a national and international conference. It has been subjected to external review by international autism expert Dr. Eric Larsson of the Lovaas Institute who stated:

"The current AITP is a remarkable and thorough program that has been developed to an exceptional level of quality in the context of limited resources. The province-wide model is one that many other provinces should adopt, as it carries with it many cost-effective features. The curriculum content requires little modification".

You would think that such success would be embraced by civil servants with portfolio responsibility for autistic students but sadly the opposite is true. At the school level the training of teacher assistants and resource teachers working with autistic children at UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training has met with fierce resistance from the minute that the careerists in the Department of Education learned that the program was being implemented pursuant to discussions between the Autism Society of New Brunswick and the current government of the province.

Premier Shawn Graham and Education Minister Kelly Lamrock committed to funding training for 100 TA's and resource teachers a year for four years at the UNB-CEL AIT program. That commitment was resisted initially be "educators" who prepared 7 alternative proposal outlines with no meat to them in order to stall implementation of the UNB training commitment. When an alternative "plan" was fleshed out it included in house training which carried no assurances of quality or integrity. There were to be no entrance requirements. The course could be completed at the candidates leisure with no time line for completion and no graduation or exam requirements. The plan would be directed by a soon to be retiring Director of Student Services who was one of the most determined opponents of the UNB-CEL training commitment. Presumably he would have received a salary to administer the program in addition to his retirement pension.

As an indication of the ferocity of resistance to the UNB proposal the alternative plan was presented to ASNB at a meeting at which the Department indicated I could not attend or the meeting would not take place. A frivolous conflict of interest allegation was made against me on the grounds that I had a complaint against the Department relating to autism services before the NB Human Rights Commission. In that complaint I was not acting as a lawyer. I brought the complaint on behalf of my autistic son .... as his father. Rather than disrupt the meeting though I agreed not to attend and ASNB simply discussed the proposals afterward with everyone including me.

At a subsequent meeting of the Dialogue on Education Committee the agenda for the day made no mention of an autism training program to be discussed. I attended on behalf of the ASNB on short notice and had to leave at mid day. No mention was made to me before I left by the Department representative chairing the meeting, Brian Kelly, the current Director of Student Services, that the Department wished to again discuss autism intervention training. Despite not being on the agenda and despite not being mentioned while I was in attendance as the Autism Society representative or otherwise receiving any notice of intent to discuss it, an autism training proposal was discussed after I left.

Although the Department complains about expense it has sent teachers to receive autism training in North Texas even though a quality training program, as asserted by Dr. Larsson, is available right here in Fredericton. The union representing TA's has opposed the UNB-CEL training because of the entrance and completion requirements and the seniority claims of older Teacher Assistants. Some of their members are unable to enter or complete the program. The Department in a recent discussion with me acknowledged the Department's concern about TA's not being able to complete the UNB-CEL program.

Apparently Department educators share the CUPE union views that the seniority interests of Teacher Assistants are more important than ensuring that qualified, capable people work with autistic children in New Brunswick schools. CUPE officials have brought grievances on behalf of untrained Teacher Assistants seeking to work with autistic students ahead of UNB autism trained TA's. The Union has recently informed some UNB autism trained TA's that the Department of Education does not intend to continue the government commitment to training Teacher Assistants at UNB-CEL. In the view of the Department officials it is apparently OK for people who can not complete autism training at UNB to work with autistic children.

The other vested interest involved in undermining the NB commitment to a real education of autistic children is the AutismPro Internet autism program offered by Virtual Experts Inc. AutismPro has lobbied extensively and was included as part of the training proposal presented by Department Educators as an alternative to UNB-CEL training. It was marketed to some parents via the Department of Education which emailed them to tell them in very positive terms about the program availability. AutismPro is an interesting concept but there is little quality evidence that the program itself is an effective evidence based autism intervention let alone that it can assist in training of otherwise unqualified Teacher Assistants and Resource Teachers.

Fighting vested adult interests has always been a challenge for parents seeking effective, evidence based treatment and intervention for our autistic children here in New Brunswick.

Unfortunately it appears that our autistic students will once again be sacrificed to adult interests.


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