Autism support: Where each party stands on the issue

The St. John’s Morning Show wrapped up its week of autism coverage by asking each provincial party leader: “What future do you see for autism in the province.”
The St. John's Morning Show asked NDP Leader Earle McCurdy, PC Leader Paul Davis, and Liberal Leader Dwight Ball how they would address the autism issue if their party forms government. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The St. John's Morning Show wrapped up a series on autism services by taking the issue straight to the leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador's political parties. 

Over the last few days, a Memorial University student living with autism, a concerned mother, and philanthropist Elaine Dobbin have all spoken out about what they see as a sad state of affairs for autistic children in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Morning Show asked each provincial party leader: "What future do you see for autism in the province?"

McCurdy sees bleak future without changes

Earle McCurdy says that autistic children face a bleak future unless something is done to improve programs in the province. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy sees trouble ahead unless changes are made to the school system.

"[It's] a bleak one, unless we put in place the services to allow teachers to do their job to work with kids with autism in school," said McCurdy, who believes that the implementation of the inclusion program in schools across the province wasn't fully thought through.

"The proper supports didn't go with it," he said, adding the NDP plans to help students with autism by increasing the number of counsellors and psychologists in the province's schools.

Last Wednesday, the party announced plans to put $7 million dollars into making that a reality.

"Right now the counselors are being totally overworked, they can't keep up with the load, and there aren't the supports in the classroom for teachers to do the job for both the special needs students and the other students in the class," said McCurdy.

​The NDP has also said that they are concerned that autism diagnoses are taking too long, that only people with the financial means are able to get proper treatment, and that not enough research is being collected.

Davis: education, health systems must work together

PC Leader Paul Davis says that his party is listening and prepared to respond to autism concerns being raised throughout the province. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Meanwhile, PC Leader Paul Davis says that his party is tuned in to what's happening with autism around the province, and that Tories are paying attention. 

"We've heard loud and clear from educators and schools the need for increased supports," he said.

"What I've also said is we need to bring education and health care together."

Davis says that currently the two functon separately, with potential aids like occupational therapists delivered through the Janeway or Western Health but not through the school system.

"That doesn't benefit schools, that doesn't benefit children with autism in the classrooms, it doesn't benefit teachers as well," said Davis. 

"Our goal is to increase those supports in classrooms and we've committed to do that."

Ball: autism strategy is needed

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says that his educational outcomes task force will include a look at the programs for autistic children in the province. (CBC)

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has said that if his party forms government, it will form an educational outcomes task force.

The task force will attempt to determine what areas of the public school system most need improvement.

"We want to work with our school systems and with parents who are impacted by this to put a provincial wide autism strategy in place," said Ball.

He also added his support for extending autism behaviour analysis programs past grade 3, and working to make occupational therapists available to schools. 

"We're the only province without OTs in our school system right now. I would anticipate that that's something we'd want to add in the future, and I can see that we would be doing that "

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