Regina family with autistic child calls for more educational support

Brittany McDonald creates comics to help spread awareness about autism. Global News

A Regina family who has a child with autism is calling on more educational supports, after three-year-old Ru McDonald was denied entry into preschool.

Ru’s mother, Brittany McDonald, says that Ru did have a place in preschool. However, after the tragic drowning death of a Kindergarten student with autism in Saskatoon last year, McDonald was told the school did not have the resources to ensure Ru’s safety.

READ MORE: Regina mother creates comics to raise awareness about autism

McDonald says that the last provincial budget, which saw a $54 million cut to education and the end of a specialized preschool program tailored to children with autism in Regina, has kids falling through the cracks.

“That is the reality of the austerity cuts. They have widened existing cracks and I know that more than one-in-68 children are falling through those cracks as autism is not the only vulnerability those services are meant to serve,” she said.

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Prior to coming to the Legislative Building on March 21, McDonald says Ru was offered a spot in preschool.

“I’m wondering what that looks like. I’m wondering if she’ll have access to an educational assistant for the correct number of hours to keep her safe,” McDonald said.

Another worry is that if the preschool spot is accepted, they will lose support from the Autism Resource Centre. This would mean losing access to the speech and occupational therapist, plus ten hours a week with an intervention specialist.

Paying out of pocket, this type of care would cost $2,000 per month.

Ru is non-verbal. McDonald says there could be severe implications for her development without the proper supports.

“She may lose the supports that she needs and the developmental window to ensure that she can do things like talk and function in society. Autistic children do contain a great potential, and I don’t believe that’s being reflected by current policy or funding,” McDonald said.

Government Response

McDonald’s story was brought to question period on March 21 by education critic Carla Beck. She’s calling on the government to look at a list of supports McDonald brought forward.

“They aren’t outrageous demands, that we have a universal screening program, that children actually receive the [educational assistant] (EA) support that is recommended, that we have an adequate number of speech pathologists and occupational therapists within the school system,” Beck said.
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Education Minister Gord Wyant says that the province has already announced $7.5 million in additional midyear school funding. That will grow to $30 million next year. Part of the goal of that funding is to hire 400 EA’s across Saskatchewan.

On top of that, Wyant pointed to the $41 million federal dollars for education that includes 220 pre-K spaces for children with intense needs, including autism.

Wyant, who has a granddaughter with autism, says that there is still more work to do, and believes that will start with more supports in the classroom.

“We want teachers to be able to teach, so when there’s children with intensive needs in classrooms they need to be supported,” Wyant said.

“That’s our experience with our granddaughter, and certainly the experience of many other families. Supports in the classroom are critical to make sure everybody has a learning experience. So I readily acknowledge that more work needs to be done.”

For early childhood support, Health Minister Jim Reiter says the province will be introducing the delayed individual family support funding for each child with autism under the age of six in the April 10 provincial budget.

The first year will be $4,000 for each child.

“I think it’s a great start. We’ve increased funding for children with autism and I think this is a big step toward that individualized funding,” Reiter said.

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The Saskatchewan Party promised this funding in their 2016 election campaign. It was delayed in last year’s budget.

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