Bridgewater girl, 10, quizzes Nova Scotia Premier about autism

Premier Stephen McNeil was visiting Hinchenbrook Farm in Blockhouse, N.S., Thursday, meeting with parents, when Serenity Holdbrook asked for an interview.

Serenity Holdbrook's 7-year-old sister has autism

Serenity Holdbrook, 10, interviewed Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil about what he knows about autism. (Serenity Holdbrook/YouTube)

A ten-year-old girl from Bridgewater put questions to Premier Stephen McNeil last week.

Serenity Holdbrook wanted to know how much he understood about autism, a health condition about which she cares deeply. 

"My sister, Nevaeh, has autism, and you can't yell at her because she'll always get upset," she said.

"You got to give [her] time to experience things."

McNeil was visiting Hinchenbrook Farm in Blockhouse, N.S., Thursday, meeting with parents about the programming, including for children with autism.

Kristy Holdbrook, front, and her daughters Serenity Holdbrook, back, and Nevaeh Holdbrook. (Kristy Holdbrook)

'So many extraordinary people'

Serenity took the change to quiz the Premier for her new YouTube channel

"What do you think when you hear the word autism?" Serenity asked on camera. 

"I think of special people and so many extraordinary people who have autism surrounded by supporting families and loving communities," McNeil responded. 


Funding gaps

The McNeil government promised in May to invest an extra $3.6 million in Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention for preschool children.

That same month, parents complained of 'excruciating' nearly year-long waits for the program at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, and a lack of options for school-age kids. 

Nevaeh Holdbrook, left, and Serenity Holdbrook, right, met Premier Stephen McNeil last week, and quizzed him on what he knew about autism. (Kristy Holdbrook)

'They miss out'

Kristy Holdbrook, Serenity and Nevaeh's mother, said she thinks the province should better fund autism-specific health and educational support.

The family has only accessed seven-year-old Nevaeh's athletic programs because they qualify for financial aid, she said. Those can cost hundreds of dollars out of pocket otherwise.

"I know other people that can't afford to do it," Holdbrook said.

"It's unfair to them because they miss out, so we've been very lucky."

Those programs are essential for her daughter to learn and be included, she said, especially as many people are unsure of how to interact with her.

Serenity in the front riding Dandy and Nevaeh in the back riding Silverbell at Hinchinbrook Farm. (Kristy Holdbrook)

Special Books by Special Kids inspires

The Holdbrook family also recently attended a camp at the farm, at which they met special education teacher and motivational speaker Chris Ulmer. He interviews children for Special Books by Special Kids, and uses those videos to educate people. 

A recent one highlighted a Truro family's touching Down symdrome story

Brothers Griffin and Turner share a laugh in the Special Books for Special Kids video. (Courtesy Special Books by Special Kids)

'Gives them time'

Meeting Ulmer — and having her sister interviewed — inspired Serenity to help others share their thoughts.

"I like how he gives them the time to think about it and experience it — I really like that," she said.

"They need time to think about it, and think about what they're going to say and answer."