Father of autistic boy wants funds to train treatment providers


New Brunswick can continue to earmark funding dollars for autism treatment, but without significant money for proper training, autism treatment programs and the children they are supposed to benefit will suffer, says the father of an autistic child.

The province has moved farther on the issue of autism treatment in the this year than in the last few. Just this spring, Family and Community Services Minister Tony Huntjens announced $2.8 million would be spent on autism treatment for children up to five years old. To date, none of the money has been spent.

Harold Doherty is the father of an 11-year-old autistic boy and a Fredericton lawyer who has been working with the University of New Brunswick to develop an education and research centre for autism treatment in New Brunswick.

He said he’s expecting an announcement from Mr. Huntjens within days.

“The big problem out there is that people just aren’t properly trained to treat autistic people in New Brunswick,” he said.

“Certainly before the treatment can begin you have to have people who are properly trained. And you just don’t have them in New Brunswick right now.”

Mr. Doherty wrote the minister a letter last week calling for specified funding for training.

“Ensuring properly trained treatment providers is a sound and necessary direction to take at this time,” he said.

“Teachers who instruct our children are educated at the university level. Nurses and other health-care practicioners also receive university level education. Why should those treating and educating our autistic children, with the tremendous challenges posed by autism, receive any less quality of education and training?”

Paul McDonnell chairs the UNB steering committee that is hoping to implement the Centre in Austism Education and Research at UNB, which would mirror a second centre at the Université de Moncton to ensure education and research is done in both French and English. He agreed that training individuals in the correct way to treat autism is key for any treatment program to succeed.

“There’s research to show that you could actually intervene with a child with autism very effectively. Up to 45 per cent of children treated would develop very successfully, or achieve significant gains,” he said.

Mr. McDonnell cited research done in 1987 by Ivar Lovaas, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“It’s also been showed that as the training level of the personnel decreases you get a corresponding level in the treatment,” he said.

The centre would develop education modules that apply to therapists and aids of all stripes. Each module would be tailored to the differing needs of speech language therapists, or in-school teacher’s aids, for example.

Mr. Huntjens said in October he hoped to have “something in place that will address autism with individual children.” He proposed most funding, $1.8 million, for Applied Behavioural Analysis therapy.

The proposed allocation of the $2.8 million has been approved in principle by the government’s policy and priority committee, with $400,000 expected to train professionals, $300,000 to hire consultants to act as case managers and $300,000 for community support centres.

Mr. Huntjens said he hoped another $2.8 million would be provided in 2004.

His spokesman, Wade Wilson, said there would be no announcement this week.
NB Telegraph-Journal | Provincial News
As published on page A3 on November 17, 2003

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