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 Singing with Sylvia for Christmas

Supporting Autism Treatment in Saskatchewan

Supporting Autism Treatment in Saskatchewan
When Jennifer Oland's youngest son Aidan was around 16 months old, she became concerned that he was losing skills he had previously mastered. Aidan's speech was delayed and he had started displaying unusual behaviors.

Upon a referral from their family doctor, Aidan started therapy at the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Centre when he was two. He was officially diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Now 6 and in Grade 1, Aidan contends with hyperactivity, loud outbursts, constant vocalizations and communication difficulties.

Although, she has grappled at times with the fact that her attention can't always be distributed equally among her three kids, Jennifer said Aidan's siblings Sarah, age 11, and David, 8, are "patient, loyal, understanding and an example for me and others on the true meaning of unconditional love."

"I personally wrestled with the reality of having a special needs kid," Jennifer shared. "You immediately set a new standard which includes the high probability your child will not speak well, have friends, succeed in a school environment, be completely independent . . . and the list goes on. It is so overwhelming at first, you don't really know if you can do it. You know you have to do it, but you don't know if you can do it.

"It didn't take me long to figure out there is little available for individuals on the autism spectrum in Saskatchewan in terms of treatment or services," Jennifer explained. "Parents and caregivers are often left with little options and no supports."

Her frustrations in trying to find local resources for her son led Jennifer to get involved with Parent Advocates for Autism Treatment in Saskatchewan, a group determined to secure therapies and interventions for their children on the autism spectrum. For those under the age of 18, PAATS is currently lobbying the Saskatchewan government for self-directed funding that can be tailored to individual needs.

"In Saskatchewan, the challenges for autistic people and their families are numerous and largely ignored," Jennifer said. "Our province is one of the worst in Canada for appropriate funding. It's a crisis situation that I don't believe the government completely understands." 

Autism currently affects 1 in 68 children, and its prevalence continues to grow. Jennifer said that a lack of programs for special needs children not only impacts families with members who are on the autism spectrum, but it also can impact the whole community, directly and indirectly, both now and in the future.

For example, in Jennifer's experiences, she feels the current education system lacks resources and appropriate training to meet the needs of children with disabilities and typical children together in a mainstream classroom.

"This provides a wonderful opportunity for teaching kids about accepting other people's differences. However, my son is not being educated with trained therapists using appropriate learning methods that increase his chances of learning. And, I know for a fact, my son's loud outbursts and constant vocalizations are a distraction to other kids in his classroom. In this province, there are currently no alternatives."

According to PAATS, the recommended amount of intervention for children with autism is a minimum of 20 hours per week. Children with autism in Saskatchewan are receiving two to three hours of intervention a week for 10 or 12 weeks as a best case scenario.

Jennifer said, "Looking into the future, the next generation will be paying high taxes for residential homes and improved healthcare because kids like my son will not have received early intervention and the opportunity to maximize their potential. Things need to change!"

This long-term change is the aim of PAATS.  If children with autism are provided with appropriate education and care, the chances of them living independently, and perhaps working small jobs, increases dramatically.

"With better interventions and supports available, those affected by autism have better outcomes in all spheres of life," Jennifer said. "People on the autism spectrum have different strengths and abilities and deserve to live to their full potential. We will continue to advocate until we see more programs, proper therapies, treatment options, and opportunities for work and participation in community events."

1 comment:

  1. Click for an update from Parent Advocates for Autism Treatment in Saskatchewan. This is a step in the right direction that we hope materializes into more appropriate therapies for Aidan and many other children in our province.


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