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Autism in NB Under an Alward Conservative Government: Rough Trail Ahead?

Posted Sep 19 2010 1:09am
I am not convinced that the polls, and the media echoing those polls, are correct in predicting a majority government under the David Alward Conservative Party of New Brunswick.  If they are though the next 4 years could see New Brunswick children and adults with autism  traveling on a very rough trail.

There is nothing in the party platform or the public comments of Mr. Alward or Conservative party members to indicate any knowledge of the seriousness of autism disorders or the increasing numbers of persons, now 1 in 110, who carry an autism disorder diagnosis. During an election period priorities are set, in the form of promises made, which will mark the path ahead.  Unfortunately for New Brunswick preschoolers requiring autism specific early intervention, students requiring accommodation for the realities of their specific autism condition, and adults with autism still living in psychiatric hospitals and general hospital wards, their  needs have not been deemed worthy of comment by the Alward Conservative team members.

Even more ominous for New Brunswickers with autism at least two possible members of an Alward Conservative government would be Jody and Jack Carr, the brothers with close ties to the New Brunswick Association for Community Living. The NBACL has done much good work for many with disabilities in New Brunswick. But it actively opposed the specific accommodations for New Brunswick students with autism which have been put in place in New Brunswick and has not followed an evidence based approach to accommodating autism specific needs.

NBACL philosophy dictates that the best place for all students, regardless of the challenges or disabilities of the individual child, and contrary to research and experience of some severely autistic children, is in the mainstream classroom.  NBACL has  steadfastly opposed the type of accommodations made for many autistic children, including my son Conor, during the last four years.  Conor loves attending his neighborhood school where he can go to general areas of the school but receives his autism specific ABA based instruction in a quieter area where he can focus on his learning and is not overwhelmed by the demands of the mainstream classroom. This type of reasonable accommodation was opposed by the NBACL organization in which the Carr family has been very prominent. Hopefully such autism accommodating education gains will not be jeopardized if the pundits prove correct and an Alward-Carr government is elected.

While gains were being made in preschool intervention and autism accommodating education, the Liberal government also held discussions with autism advocates over the past four years about  modernizing the residential care system for youths and adults with autism disorders.  The essence of those autism submissions is summarized in the advice offered by New Brunswick autism expert Dr. Paul McDonnell on his  CBC web site commentary Autism Services Needed for N.B. adults
"Our greatest need at present is to develop services for adolescents and adults," McDonnell writes.

"What is needed is a range of residential and non-residential services and these services need to be staffed with behaviourally trained supervisors and therapists."

"In the past we have had the sad spectacle of individuals with autism being sent off to institutional settings such as the Campbellton psychiatric hospital, hospital wards, prisons, and even out of the country at enormous expense and without any gains to the individual, the family or the community

Among the reforms that the UNB professor is calling for is an enhanced group home system where homes would be connected to a major centre that would develop ongoing training and leadership.

The larger centre could also offer services for people who have mild conditions. But, he said, it could also be used to offer permanent residential care for individuals with more severe diagnoses.

"Such a secure centre would not be based on a traditional 'hospital' model but should, itself, be integrated into the community in a dynamic manner, possibly as part of a private residential development," he writes.

"The focus must be on education, positive living experiences and individualized curricula. The key to success is properly trained professionals and staff. "
The McDonnell model of adult autism residential care and treatment is exactly the type of concept that was being discussed with the Liberal government of Shawn Graham.  The Conservative party has shown no inclination in the current campaign to engage in any meaningful discussions about autism disorders. The past history of prominent Conservative candidates Jody and Jack Carr promises more community based philosophy and cliches but no understanding of, and no willingness to reasonably accommodate,  the  specific needs of those with autism disorders.

If the pundits are correct there could be a rough trail ahead for children, students and adults with autism disorders and their families.

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