Autism Nova Scotia says it has experienced a more than 50 per cent increase in calls from people looking for help with complex cases of autism since last year.
Vicki Harvey, Autism Nova Scotia’s community outreach coordinator, told Global News on Friday that the increase in calls “speaks to lack of access” to programs and supports.
On Thursday, the family of Callum Sutherland went public with its plea for supports. Carly Sutherland said her son was hospitalized in October after he became increasingly violent and staying at home was no longer safe for him or his family.
Sutherland said Callum will be released next week without having the necessary supports in place.
WATCH: Carly Sutherland speaks to reporters about her family’s desperate search for help for their son, who has autism
On Thursday, Harvey said Callum’s family isn’t alone in their search for supports, characterizing the increase in calls to Autism Nova Scotia as “drastic.”
On Friday, Autism Nova Scotia released the numbers backing up Harvey’s assessment. She said the services Nova Scotia provides to people with autism results in a “patchwork” of programs.
The province’s health, education, and community services ministers are all responsible for different services that families of children with autism can access.
None of them were made available for interviews on Friday.
The IWK Health Centre says it has a a “variety” of options for children with developmental disabilities including the Autism Specific Care Clinic. But Harvey said the clinic isn’t “comprehensive.”
“It does not cover all the needs and particularly when you get into these higher need, more complex cases,” she said.
“We don’t have enough resources there, we don’t have the expertise there to provide what those people need.”
She said if there were more supports and services in place then the advocacy group wouldn’t see the same number of complex cases coming to them.
“There would be somewhere for people to go to find some resources,” she said.
Direct subsidy to families
Families caring for a child with a disability can get some financial support from the province as long as they earn a combined income of less than $94,272 for a family of five or more. The income cap depends on the number of people in the family, and is lower for smaller families.
The income caps haven’t changed since July 2012.
Called the “direct family support for children” program, the province says it is supposed to help with costs for transportation, medication, and respite care.
Sutherland said her family has been able to access the subsidy. She said last year it covered just under half of the approximately $25,000 price tag her family paid for Callum’s care.
She told Global News her son’s case is being reassessed.
WATCH: Nova Scotia parents question drop in supports for students with autism
Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention ends at age six
Advocates say some of the most important treatment that people with autism can get is intensive behavioural intervention.
In Nova Scotia that’s offered through the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention program which is available to children up to the age of six.
In Ontario a similar program is publicly available for people up to age 18.
Harvey said the treatment helps people with autism learn the communication and relationship skills that typical individuals pick up naturally.
She said the treatment will “focus on those gaps” and teach people with autism the skills they need so they can “integrate more comfortably in community.”
In an emailed statement, the health department pointed out that it will spend approximately $15.7 million on autism services this year.
Spokesperson Tracy Barron said that includes $300,000 in new funding for Autism Nova Scotia to expand their resource centres and $500,000 for an early intervention pilot program “to help parents” before their children go into the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention program.
Autism Nova Scotia pushing for a national strategy
Even though other provinces may be ahead of Nova Scotia in some areas, Harvey said there are gaps in support in every province. She said Autism Nova Scotia along with other advocacy groups are pushing for a national strategy to correct that.
A national strategy would create a “road map” for the provinces, Harvey said.
Based on a national strategy provinces could then create a system that “provides services to all families, no matter the complexity.
In the mean time, Harvey said she hopes the provincial government and health authorities will work with the public and experts in the field to improve services in Nova Scotia.