Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder, Autism Society of America
On Monday Alex and I will meet with our local MLA Blaine Higgs, who also happens to be New Brunswick's Minister of Finance. We have requested this meeting with the intent to point out the issues facing the autism community in New Brunswick. We would like to highlight the major concerns regarding autism services, ranging from diagnostic issues, early intervention and school-aged children to adults on the spectrum. Of course, this is a huge undertaking and we have under an hour to present our thoughts but nonetheless we are grateful for the audience. Our main issues will be drawn up and detailed for Minister Higgs but I would like to lay them out here as well. I run most of my thoughts, on all things autism, by the readers of this blog and your comments have always been much appreciated. Maybe, you could help me articulate my thoughts for Minister Higgs. If you don't live in New Brunswick, please let me know what works and does not work in your Province/State. I guess it is clear, by my choice of an opening quote, that I feel funding only one treatment (ABA) and touting that treatment as the only evidence-based, scientifically sound treatment for autism is a major concern.
If you google "Autism Services in NB" you will come across a few articles detailing how New Brunswick is a leader in the field. They will say things like, "Children in NB receive 20 hours a week of ABA," (15 if you're lucky). "Children in NB can receive a diagnosis of autism as early as 18 months," (it takes that long for some people to even get in to see a specialist) and "services can be implemented in a matter of weeks," (not even close. If you're a loyal reader, you know that our own Kate waited for 177 days to receive service.) Essentially, New Brunswick has been patted on the back in recent years for great strides in implementing autism services and intervention programs. It is time to stop resting on those accolades and look closely at our system once again. Are we truly servicing the autistic population to the best of our abiltiies? (yes, I said autitistic! I have decided that person-first language is currently an argument I am not willing to fight when so many more important issues are looming) The bottom line is: Why do we call it a spectrum and then offer only ONE treatment?
Here is what I want Minister Higgs to know:
1. The hospital corporation has been amazing. Our doctors, our OT's, and our Speech Paths have been top drawer. Give them MORE resources and give them above standard training and education in their fields. Hire more of them so they are not spread so thin that they spend their evenings feeling guilty for never having enough time/energy/resources to properly serve their clients. Allow these PROFESSIONALS to be flexible and varied in the services they deliver. They are amazing at what they do and they are in the field everyday. Allow services to be needs-based rather than diagnosis-based. TRUST the medical professionals when they tell you someone could benefit from a therapy.
2. Please, please, please DO NOT put all your eggs in one basket. Allow other therapy options for early intervention. See, Pivotal Response, Floor Time and Son-Rise to name a few. Explore art and music therapy and look at the whole-body approach. Allow the PARENTS and their respective teams to direct the funding to therapies they see as most legitimate and suitable for their children. DO NOT marginalize parents in this process. We know our children better than a room full of autism research scholars. We are vital to setting up appropriate treatments. Listen to us.
3. Boost the services that school-aged children receive. Services dramatically drop off once a child enters the school system. This is unnacceptable. Allow teachers and EA's to be trained in VARIED autism intervention theories. Give us MORE resources and more bodies so that we can feel effective and proud of the work we do with special needs children.
4. Finally, and I don't like to use that word because this, in no way, means that our needs can be fairly expressed in four small paragraphs, but there is a crucial need for policy-makers to implement services that treat autistic individuals across their lifespan.
There it is in a nutshell. What am I missing? What can I add? What do you think is imperative? Don't get me started on services for the siblings of kids with special needs because that will have to be for the next meeting! Thanks for listening and please feel free to leave comments below or send me a private message.