The mother of a girl with autism has contacted Ontario's premier after her daughter left her school without anyone noticing.

Liana Arban said her daughter Jada, 10, used to have an educational assistant (E.A.) in her classrom at Blossom Park Public School.

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Liana Arban fears for her daughter's safety without an educational assistant to help supervise. (CBC)

But this year, there is only a teacher even though Liana's individual education plan requires personal support. That's because Jada's autism causes problems with social interaction and communication. 

Arban said the need for support was evident last week when Jada was found outside her school alone. The teacher didn't notice she had left the classroom.

"In that three minutes … she could have been taken away," Arban said. "Anything could have happened to her and that's what really concerned me."

Letter sent to premier

Arban was so upset she wrote a letter to Dalton McGuinty saying Ontario's education system is failing children with autism in an integrated classroom.

Educational Assistants employed by the OCDSB (FTEs)
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Courtesy: Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

"She needs supervision. She needs help. Someone has to be watching her and that's when it really hit me: she doesn't have an E.A. in her class," said Arban.

Blossom Park has temporarily provided a second teacher to Jada's classroom, but Arban said her daughter still spends 80 minutes per day in her classroom with the one teacher.

These concerns are spreading to more parents, according to the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers' Federation, because the number of children with autism is growing.

Teachers struggling with special needs demands

There are also more classes with these children integrated with other children and there are not enough educational assistants to help out.

"We're not coping," said Janet Fraser, vice-president of the elementary teachers union.

"The number of autism students is rising across the country. Numbers have gone up for at least the last 10 years … and many classes have one, maybe two students (with autism)."

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Janet Fraser says the elementary teachers union has made its worries clear to the board about an increasing demand caused by a rising number of children with autism who are integrated into the classroom. (CBC)

The union recently issued a report demanding the Ontario Ministry of Education invest more resources for children with special needs who are integrated in Ottawa classrooms.

As for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, it has increased the number of assistants in the classroom by small increments. As of June 2012, Ottawa's public school board paid for a total of 621 full-time equivalent jobs for educational assistants between both the elementary and secondary schools.

That compares to 599 a year earlier and 539.5 in the 1998-99 school year.

In the public board, E.A.s are allocated based on decisions by superintendents made based on the following factors:

  • How many students are there for whom safety of self or others is a factor.
  • How many students are there for whom medical concerns require significant support/intervention in the school environment for a significant portion of the day.
  • How many students are there for whom self-help skills require significant support/intervention in the school environment.