It’s a problem faced by many parents of special-needs children: sometimes, the regular school system doesn’t work for them.
One Vancouver school has been filling a void for children on the autism spectrum but its waitlist is now several times its capacity.
Eighteen kids and a staff of 21 fill just about every corner of PAL Autism School in East Vancouver. Even the smallest of rooms are used for instruction.
“This is what we know and this is what we have so we make it work because it’s our only option at this point,” principal Andrea Kasunic said.
For 10 years, PAL’s instructors have taught kids aged five to 18 with varying abilities.
Nine-year-old Walter Brown came here after struggling in the mainstream school system.
“It made me feel alone,” he said.
“I didn’t have too many friends. Sometimes I felt left out when they were playing games. In my first year when I was in kindergarten, I was bullied a lot.”
Globalnews.ca coverage of autism
“It’s just a lot of stress off of him to try and fit in and be a certain way,” Walter’s stepmom, Jodi Eckland, said. “Here he can just be who he is with people who accept him for who he is.”
Started by two parents, PALS is the only year-round school of its kind in B.C. Partially funded by the province and by parents, the school must also raise $13,000 for every child.
“We are at capacity in this facility and we have over 40 families who are waiting for the next spot,” Kasunic said.
In March, PALS will move to a new building in New Westminster. It will provide much-needed space, but won’t do much for the school’s long waitlist.
“I just don’t know what it’s going to open up the eyes of the government to understand that not everybody needs to be in a cookie-cutter school or can necessarily fit in that type of school environment,” mother Carol Humphrys said.
“I think it’s a crisis.”
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