The Department of Education is failing children with autism by making cuts to support staff, according to a concerned parent who has been calling for help since the summer.
Russ Hobbis’ nine-year-old daughter, Molly, has autism and used to have a full-time education assistant at Jack Hulland Elementary School.
In Grades 1 and 2, there was an assistant in the classroom to provide support, if Molly needed it.
She was doing so well that her anti-anxiety medication had been reduced and her meltdowns were limited to once or twice a year.
This year, there’s no extra support for Molly in the classroom, Hobbis said. The only education assistant present is focussed on another student, and she was pulled from the classroom on Nov. 24, he said.
Molly’s meltdowns have become more frequent and there have been talks of increasing her medication.
During a Remembrance Day ceremony at school on Nov. 10, she became overwhelmed and ended up crying in a quiet room for over an hour.
After she pulled herself together and went to music class, she went through another meltdown when she couldn’t deal with the noise.
“It’s through no fault of the school,” Hobbis said, “because they just don’t have the resources.”
“We have letters from specialists who have been working with Molly for years who say that Grade 4 is a very important year for her, that she’d need a lot more support. It’s frustrating because you want to help your kid, but you can’t because there’s nobody there to support her.”
Hobbis has been asking for support since August. He said he finally got his first face-to-face meeting with Education Minister Elaine Taylor last week.
Taylor and Deputy Minister Valerie Royle, both at the meeting, told Hobbis “the budget was blown” and admitted to having flaws in the system, he said.
When asked why the education assistant had been pulled from Molly’s classroom, they told Hobbis the school had the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in town.
“I said so this is based on percentages and numbers, not based on children’s needs,” he said.
“In the real world what do percentages and numbers mean to the children who need help the most?”
The population in the territory has increased and so have the number of children with special needs, but the number of education assistants hasn’t changed, he said.
That has the same effect as making cuts, he added.
“Ten years ago it was four or five children per 10,000 that had autism but now it’s one in 65,” Hobbis said.
“You hear the premier promote the territory as a great place to live and raise a family – but only if your kids are typical and don’t have any issues.”
Hobbis wants to see an independent review conducted of the department’s special education programs.
Contact Myles Dolphin at firstname.lastname@example.org