© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Education Minister Allan MacIsaac, right, speaks during a legislature committee meeting in Charlottetown Tuesday. At left is Sandy MacDonald, deputy minister of education.
As autism rates rise in P.E.I., the province is taking a team approach to make sure children get the services they need, says Education Minister Alan McIsaac.
McIsaac said the government thinks most children with autism will be able to contribute very well to society, which is why it is putting the necessary supports and transitions in place for when children leave the school system.
“We look at them as every bit as important as any child in our system,” he said.
Deputy Education Minister Sandy MacDonald joined McIsaac Tuesday to give MLAs at the education and innovation committee a briefing on the province’s autism services.
McIsaac told the committee that in 2003, one in 211 children had some form of autism spectrum disorder, but in 2010 that ratio decreased to one in 110.
Newfoundland and Labrador had a similar rate in 2010 with one in 120 children with autism spectrum disorder while southern Ontario’s rate was one in 77.
There are about 260 children in P.E.I.’s school system who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, with 56 others on a wait list for diagnosis.
The Education Department spends $14 million a year on autism services and McIsaac said the province regularly reviews where that money goes to make sure it is spent in the best way possible.
“Is it enough? It’s what we have at the present time for the number of students we have,” he said.
That funding includes money spent on autism consultants who handle about 30 or 40 students.
McIsaac said he thinks the province is taking a good, co-ordinated approach that involves parents, teachers and other people who work in the system.
“It takes that working together, working with our students who are a very valuable part of our student body and in the inclusive model that we’re trying to have here on P.E.I., to make it work so children with autism have the best education possible,” he said.
During the committee meeting, Opposition Leader Steven Myers said some students with autism are being segregated in Island schools.
McIsaac said some students may not stay in their classrooms for every class, depending on the education plan developed for them, but they aren’t segregated completely.
“That’s not standard procedure, that’s for sure,” he said.
Jeff Himelman, president of the Autism Society of P.E.I., was at the committee meeting and said he feels like there is what he described as a gulf in the understanding of what is supposed to happen and what ends up happening in practice.
During McIsaac’s presentation he talked about a seamless transition through the different services for students with autism, but Himelman said the province is far from it.
“The gulf may not be as broad as the St. Lawrence, but there’s a gulf there,” he said.
As for how well the province is providing services for children with autism, Himelman said there are a lot of people with good intentions working on the issue, but in any complex system under tight fiscal conditions, corners get cut.
“It’s just unavoidable and corners are getting cut in this area,” he said.