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Parents ask Alberta government to allow in-person therapy for children with special needs

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WATCH: The pandemic has meant the cancellation of in-person therapy for many young children. But now some parent of kids on the autism spectrum are demanding the government intervene and find a way for in-person therapy to resume again – Oct 19, 2020

Some parents of children on the autism spectrum are urging the Alberta government to approach therapy service providers to allow their children to have in-person therapy again.

When in-person therapy and school came to a halt in March because of the pandemic, it had a profound impact on families who have children with special needs.

“The lack of school and the lack of therapy in combination at once meant we saw a lot of behavioural regressions,” said Melissa Morrison,  who has a six-year-old son on the autism spectrum who has severe global developmental delays.

“We struggled as a family to maintain any sort of rhythm.

“He resorted to behaviours like not sleeping at night and things that really have a significant impact on our family,” Morrison said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Families of children with autism left scrambling before school starts

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Morrison tried the government-funded online therapy sessions but she said that didn’t work for Hudson’s high needs.

“If you are asking him to sit down in front of a TV screen for an hour or two it’s really asking the impossible so it just didn’t work for us,” Morrison said.

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Families of children with disabilities receive provincial funding for critical therapy. They have a choice of either going with an array of government-approved agencies for treatment or assembling their own team of professionals.

Morrison said the problem with parents finding their own therapists is that they often end up paying a significant amount of the cost out of pocket.

But she said some of the private teams have been providing in-person service — something Morrison said she wasn’t able to get with her agency or any other agencies.

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“If the government’s position is that we are able to have kids return to school, this needs to follow in line with that position and it just hasn’t,” Morrison said.

Morrison is asking the provincial government to start talks with therapy providers to help bring back in-home sessions as safely as possible.

Read more: People with disabilities, autism carry a heavier pandemic burden, advocates say

“What I have asked is for is at least to open the dialogue with the agencies around what their perceived risk concerns are and if there is a way to mitigate those risks.

“There has to be a way to find a risk-mitigated approach to getting kids the therapy they need because these are kids who, for the most part, are in that very critical early intervention phase of their life where you need to get to them now or it just snowballs in terms of their issues later on,” Morrison said.

The organization that was providing therapy to Hudson told the family that its position has not changed and it will continue providing support online.

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A spokesperson for Community and Social Services Alberta, the provincial ministry responsible for the funding, said money is provided for parents to work with service providers of their choice and allow families to work with providers they feel best meet the unique needs of their child and family.

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“We do not have the ability to mandate providers to offer in-person services.

“It is the discretion of the service provider and their college/regulatory body to establish the methods in which they will provide service,” said Jerry Bellikka, spokesperson and senior advisor to the minister of Community and Social Services, in a statement.

Austism Calgary says timely, early intervention is critical.

“We are seeing an increasing number of service providers who are finding unique ways to provide in-person therapy sessions,” said Autism Calgary executive director Lyndon Parakin.