Parents Desperate for Autism Strategy

Last Updated: Friday, November 20, 2009 | 8:37 AM ET
CBC News

Long wait times in P.E.I. for the diagnosis of autism, up to two years, are leaving parents in a “state of panic,” said a protester at the legislature Thursday.

Opposition leader Olive Crane wants to know why pay for tutors is so low when the government has money to hire wine experts. (P.E.I. legislature)

The government is working on a strategy for dealing with autism, but the protesters complained it is taking too long and there has been a lack of consultation. In the meantime, delays for diagnosis and assessment of what treatment is required are causing serious problems for families, they said.

“We wanted to make the public aware that this is what’s going on and we need help,” said Tammy McQuaid, who has a three-year-old daughter with autism.

“Kids just can’t wait that long, and parents are in a state of panic, they have no direction to where to go.”

More than a dozen parents gathered at Province House for the peaceful protest.

Last fall the Department of Education hired a consulting team to review the system. The team talked to two people with the Autism Society of P.E.I., but did not consult parents. Education Minister Gerard Greenan said that wasn’t necessary.

“Those specialists are very aware of the issues related to the particular children, so we get those reports back from the specialists,” said Greenan.

Waiting to see report

The report is now finished, but the government has not released it. Nathalie Walsh, executive director of the Autism Society of P.E.I., lacks confidence in the process.

“We’re not necessarily assured that our voices are definitely being heard when we hear of incidents like this, when things are happening without referral to us,” said Walsh.

Under the current system many parents are finding it expensive to provide the care their children need. For example, many parents find it necessary to top up the pay allowed for tutors, who are offered just $10 an hour by the province. McQuaid pays an extra $5 an hour for her daughter’s tutor.

“I’m lucky she takes that,” she said.

“I think she deserves a lot more, but right now that’s all I can afford.”

Opposition leader Olive Crane questioned Greenan about the autism strategy in the legislature.

Crane asked Greenan why it takes parents two years to get an assessment done for an autistic child, when the standard should be three months.

Greenan said there’s a national shortage of specialists and P.E.I. is doing the best it can with the resources it has.

Crane highlighted the low pay offered for autism tutors, comparing that to the recent hiring of two wine experts for the liquor commission at a cost of $80,000.

Greenan responded that parents are free to hire whomever they want as a tutor.

Greenan said the autism strategy would be unveiled some time this fall and perhaps be in place by spring.

Reproduced from