Review of N.S. autism services kept private despite acknowledgement of gaps

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WATCH: Government officials weren't hesitant to admit supports for individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder are lacking but won't make a recent review of those services public record. Jeremy Keefe reports – May 9, 2018

Officials of several Nova Scotia government departments admit that support for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) comes up short in a number of avenues. But even with a recent report outlining the gaps, that information isn’t being made public.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia to hire over 190 professionals to help with classroom inclusion

“What we understood even 20 years ago was so much different,” explained Karen Gatien, Associate Deputy Minister for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. “So the services and supports that we put in place at that time, of course, now we need to change them.”

Support for Nova Scotians with ASD and their families runs from preschool age to adulthood. There’s everything from screening for signs of ASD in a child’s first two years to small option homes and post-secondary assistance for adults.

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They’re wide-ranging support systems that officials say have been evolving as experience is gained.

“We don’t have cookie cutter programs that we can simply assign. We have to build out from what it is that the child needs and the family needs,” said Community Services Deputy Minister Lynn Hartwell. “That takes a bit of time and that takes sometimes some real co-ordination between departments and organizations.”

However, to the chagrin of MLAs searching for answers and parents in need of more support, a recent review of autism-related services conducted by the IWK is being kept private.

A move some call counterproductive.

“We know the IWK did a report on services and gaps in service and we can’t even get access to that report,” Tim Houston, MLA for Pictou East said. “So it’s difficult for me to hear in there every witness talk about their collaboration with Autism Nova Scotia and all the wonderful things they’re doing together but then know that they won’t work with Autism Nova Scotia on reports that talk about the gaps in the system.”

“I think that the public and families like myself deserve to know where the gaps are,” said Carly Sutherland, whose son Callum lives with autism. “In particular the IWK’s review in which they say there are recommendations, we are following up on the recommendations yet we won’t tell you what they are. I find that a little bit concerning.”

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The province’s Inclusive Education Plan released earlier in the week outlines the hiring of nearly 200 people in support positions including 11 parent navigators to help make access easier for those whose children need extra support.

MLA Lisa Roberts said the difficulty many parents face in locating the necessary services should be addressed immediately.

“What I’m particularly frustrated at is being assured ‘oh when a family needs this sort of support they can come to us and we will address their needs,'” she explained. “But that means the onus is left with the family.”

“It’s not a light switch that you turn on,” said Denise Perret, deputy minister for the Department of Health and Wellness. “We’re putting foundational pieces in place, we’re co-ordinating our team members more closely and hopefully building this system over time, but I hope it’s a short time.”

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