Sinking Into Autism’s Debt

Canadian family asks N.S. to pay for twins’ treatment

By Kelly Shiers

A Hammonds Plains couple will plead with politicians at Province
House this week for financial help to treat their autistic three-year-old twin

Tracey and Gerard Avery will present a petition with more than 4,000
signatures asking the province to pick up the tab for applied behaviour
analysis, a special therapy that some other provincial governments pay

“My husband and I, we’re not really into politics,” Mrs. Avery said.
“But these are our children and we can’t sit by. We need to help them
learn whatever they can.”

In March, Brandon and Kyle were both diagnosed with autism, a
neurological disorder that often leads to problems with speech and social
skills and repetitive, even violent, behaviour. Neither boy can speak more
than a few words.

According to the Autism Society of Canada, 1,000 children born in
this country each year will develop autism spectrum disorders by the time they
reach age three.

Research indicates the earlier the treatment begins, the better the
results. And providing this kind of treatment may cut in half the
estimated cost of supporting people with autism over their lifetimes.
Specialists recommend 40 hours each week of applied behaviour
analysis or intensive behavioural therapy for children to get the most benefit.
The Averys spend $600 a month for an applied behaviour analysis
therapist to work four hours a week with each boy. The goal is to improve
their skills, develop co-ordination, break repetitive behaviours and even
for them to learn to sit at a table for an extended time, as they would be
expected to do in school.

“We see so much potential in them,” Mrs. Avery said. “Since they
started working with her, it’s amazing.”

Paying for the few hours of therapy is pushing the family budget to
its limit. Paying for 40 hours a week for each boy is out of the question.
“The $600 (monthly) is hurting us,” Mrs. Avery said. “Just in the
last year, we’ve gone so far in debt. We never even used to carry a credit card

Mrs. Avery said she and her husband are frustrated because other
provinces, such as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland,
Ontario and British Columbia, pick up the tab for this treatment.
They started gathering signatures for a petition less than a month
ago and surpassed 4,000 without going door to door. Instead, they’ve relied on
word of mouth from family and friends. As well, anyone who wants to
support their cause can sign petitions at Boomerang’s restaurant on Portland
Street in Dartmouth, where Mrs. Avery waits tables, and at Smitty’s restaurant in
Bedford, which Mr. Avery manages.

“If we could get ABA therapy covered, all the kids with autism could
get help before they’re school age,” Mrs. Avery said.

“If government would help early, it (would) shape them for life and
save money in the long run.”

In March, a Dartmouth family moved to British Columbia to get
government help for eight-year-old Dominique Dassonville-Trudel.

In an interview with this newspaper last month, Joyce Dassonville
said her daughter is now receiving the one-on-one training in North Vancouver
that Ms. Dassonville had sued the Halifax regional school board and the
province to get. That lawsuit is still pending.

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