Lord promises probe of Autism treatment

Tuesday June 3, 2003 Pg. A5
Moncton Times & Transcript

Lord promises probe of autism treatment
Following the election, premier invites parents of autistic children to share specific cases with government

Times & Transcript Staff

Premier Bernard Lord said he wants to look into allegations that his government is experimenting with autistic foster children by treating them with an unproven form of alternative medicine.

However, he’ll only have time to do that after the June 9 election.

Lord said yesterday he couldn’t comment on the allegations because he didn’t have the details surrounding the case.

“As a government, we want to help the children of the province – that’s our commitment. But if some (parents) have specific cases that they want to share with us, I invite them to do so,” Lord said.

“Obviously over the next week we’re going to be very, very busy, but just after the election, absolutely, they should come to us and share with us the details of that, because I’d like to look into that.”

Accounts from a Metro Moncton foster mother and other parents of autistic children published yesterday allege the existence of a government-driven project to treat autistic foster children using a technique that maintains “energy blockages” are the source of hundreds of ailments, including autism.

The approach has been called quackery by some medical experts.

MacAlpine has denied the existence of the project and suggested that the only proven therapy used to treat autistic children, called Applied Behavioural Analysis, or ABA, is also considered quackery by some.

In the wake of her comments, the president of the Autism Society of New Brunswick is asking Lord not to re-assign MacAlpine to a cabinet position if his government returns to power and MacAlpine is re-elected in the Moncton South riding.

“It is . . . unacceptable that a minister can avoid responsibility by professing a startling ignorance of the affairs of her department,” society president Harold Doherty wrote in an e-mail to the premier yesterday.

“Nor is it acceptable that a minister can display fundamental ignorance of a subject, such as autism, which impacts so seriously many of the people she is supposed to serve.”

Doherty pointed out that the British Columbia Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeals have agreed that ABA therapy is the only effective treatment available for autism right now.

While Lord rallied his supporters during a news conference in his campaign headquarters on Morton Avenue yesterday morning, four mothers of autistic kids picketed at its entrance.

Shirley Smallwood, an oncology nurse and mother to a four-year-old boy with autism, was among them. She said she’s been off work since March on stress leave because she’s been forced to give her son ABA-style therapy that she believes the government should be providing.

“My biggest beef with Team Lord is the fact that they have demonstrated total gross unaccountability to our children with autism,” she said.

In April, the Lord government announced a plan that would put $2.8 million toward autism treatment. Accredited ABA therapy can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year. Smallwood said she wonders how $2.8 million can provide adequate therapy when it’ll be split among the province’s 1,200 autistic children.

“They’re hoping to target support centres,” she said.

“I know myself and (others) feel that more videos and more hugs at the door aren’t going to make our kids any better. We want treatment.”

Inside the campaign office, Lord told reporters that treatment is the objective behind the $2.8 million.

“It’s not for more bureaucracy or more layers of government – it’s about better service for the children,” he said.

Lord was asked if the money will be dedicated to providing ABA therapy for the children.

“Some of it will be, absolutely – that’s the understanding I have from the experts, and of course I rely on the experts that tell us where’s the best investment, but that’s what they’ve told me.”

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