Many children with autism spectrum disorder have to wait at least one year for a diagnosis in the public health care system. They typically wait another two years on waiting lists for services. By the time they get to school, some have aged out and end up starting school without having received the services they were promised. One school commissioner is now demanding answers from Quebec’s education minister.
“The special needs enrolment is increasing exponentially and we have not been provided with support financially or the resources to accommodate these children,” said Joanne Charron, English Montreal School Board (EMSB) parent commissioner.
The EMSB’s Special Needs Advisory Committee has written a letter to the education minister demanding an emergency meeting to address the lack of funding and resources. But Sebastien Proulx has yet to respond.
Quebec is currently working on an autism action plan that’s supposed to address issues including services in schools.
“We find it paramount that the government sit down and re-look and re-organize the way they’re delivery education services,” Charron said.
Some families have already turned to the legal system for help.
A class action lawsuit is already in the works, spearheaded by five-year-old Charlotte Kuhn’s parents over the lack of services both in the community and at school.
“They need support in the schools,” Charlotte’s father Sam Kuhn said.
“She’s been neglected for all these years. She’s now in the public system and all she has is a part-time speech pathologist who has three schools she has to work at.”
Families of older children with autism are saddened to hear that access to services hasn’t improved much in recent decades.
Christopher Gonzalez is a 19-year-old living with autism. He spent most of his childhood at a local English public school in Montreal and his mother claims it was a constant struggle to get adequate services.
“He was sent home for spitting at a teacher. I said: ‘He’s an autistic child. You should have someone there for him,’ and that’s when I brought in the lawyers,” Christopher’s mother Peggy Gonzalez said.
Christopher’s family claims he wasn’t given the help he needed until they threatened the school board with a lawsuit.
“I think if enough people join and take this Quebec government to court, that will definitely help because they’re not doing anything to help these children,” Peggy Gonzalez said.
Quebec’s Human Rights Commission received 30 complaints about a lack of services in schools last year alone.
“It’s their right and it’s come down to an ethical issue now too,” Charron said. “They have the right and they deserve the right to be educated in a way that they can benefit from.”