Autism services review kicks off with public meetings

The P.E.I. Department of Education has begun a review of its autism services for the children in Island schools, with public hearings into the issue kicking off on Tuesday.
P.E.I.'s education minister says there are 260 children in the Island school system diagnosed with some form of autism but only 140 are accessing funding provided by the department. (The Canadian Press)

The P.E.I. Department of Education has begun a review of its autism services for the children in Island schools, with public hearings into the issue kicking off on Tuesday.

Education Minister Alan McIsaac and his deputy minister of education, Sandy MacDonald, appeared before the legislative committee on Tuesday.

They said there are 260 children in the Island school system diagnosed with some form of autism.

McIsaac said only 140 autistic children are accessing funding provided by the department.

He said the Department of Education spends between $14 and $15 million per year helping autistic children. That funding is currently under review.

"And we look at where we spend our dollars on a regular basis and we review it and I've met with the coordinator with the program just yesterday to review the whole process that we have with the autism sector and it is a significant investment. Is it enough? It’s what we have at the present time," said McIsaac.

But Jeff Himelman, president of the Autism Society of P.E.I., said the funding for autistic children is less than what McIsaac claims.

“The current budget line item for autism services is approximately $1.8 million in this year's budget … I can't comment on the [$14 to $15 million] without more details,” he said.

Himelman said regardless of the amount being spent, there's a lack of services.

"In any complex system in a tight fiscal environment, corners are getting cut, corners get cut, it’s just unavoidable and corners are getting cut in this area," he said.

McIsaac said helping children diagnosed with autism integrate into society is important.

"In the Department of Education we want to focus on the fact that we transition them and have them best prepared for life after high school," said McIsaac.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.