Barbara Cabrera and son Lekai

Barbara Cabrera hugs her five-year-old son Lekai, who has autism. (Pascale Bouchard/SRC)

The family of an autistic boy in Saskatoon may leave the province if he loses access to his therapy, something his mother fears may happen.  

Five-year-old Lekai McArthur-Cabrera is taking part in a unique pilot program in the province, called Little Tots, funded by the Saskatchewan government for the current fiscal year.

"We were seriously a month away from moving, before we were accepted to this program," said his mother, Barbara Cabrera.

Lekai is one of just 12 children receiving 20 hours a week of Applied Behavioural Analysis(ABA). It's a form of therapy that has produced significant results in some autistic children.

Now talking after two years of therapy 

Cabrera said her son has made enormous progress in the past two years.

At the age of three, he exhibited many classic signs of the brain development disorder, which impairs the ability to communicate and interact with other people.

He would not look anyone in the eye.  He wasn't talking and he wouldn't cry if he fell and hit his head.

Now he is able to use simple words, correctly identifying a plastic toy he picked from a tub as "fish".

He also freely shows affection, giving his mom warm hugs and kisses.

"I won the jackpot! That's all I needed. 'Mommy I love you'," said Cabrera.

'We might actually look at relocating which will be unfortunate cause our family is here' - Barbara Cabrera

But Lekai soon won't be able to take part anymore because he'll be over this program's age limit of five. Then he'll be limited to one to three hours of therapy per week offered through another established program. But is that sufficient?

"No, not at all. Not even close," said Kira Epp, a support worker with Autism Services of Saskatoon, a charitable organization that provides programs and services. "It's like practicing anything. If you were going to practice a musical instrument, is one to three hours a week really going to help you out all that much? Not really."

Epp said in recent years services for autism have expanded here in Saskatchewan. In the last seven years, spending on programs specifically targeted towards autism have increased by 1400 per cent, reaching its current level of $7.55 million. 

But that spending is still far less than what's offered in some other provinces, Epp said.

Program future unclear

It's not certain if the Little Tots program that gave Lekai such a boost will continue, alhough results to date have been positive.

"We will be reviewing it, and so until that review is complete a final decision has not been made," said Roger Carriere, executive director of the health ministry's community care branch.

In a further clarification, a ministry spokesperson said "As with all pilot projects, it is being evaluated to determine future steps."

Meanwhile, Cabrera believes her son needs another year or two of intensive therapy.

So she is back to pondering her family's future, possibly in Alberta.

 "We might actually look at relocating which will be unfortunate cause our family is here," she said.