When Christine Levesque's son Larz started kindergarten he was potty trained, but he soon regressed because she says the school's staff wasn't properly trained to deal with a child with autism.
"I went in an hour earlier than I said I was going to to pick him up," said Levesque, who lives in the Niagara region. "I walked into the school and he was locked in a computer classroom in the dark with his pants filled with feces and urine."
Better training and support services are just some of the things parents with children on the autism spectrum are calling for, according to a new survey released by the Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC).
The group is holding a protest outside of Queen's Park Thursday morning, hoping to get the Ontario government to understand the challenges of raising a child with autism.
The survey found that 72 per cent of parents feel that their children don't receive the level of support they need from their schools.
Parents feel their children are neglected, survey finds
About 60 per cent of the study's 166 respondents were told by a professional that their child required one-on-one support from an educational assistant assigned exclusively to them, but only 17 per cent say their child has that support.
The OAC's vice president, Laura Kirby-McIntosh, blames the lack of services on poorly allocated funding.
Although she's not surprised by stories like Levesque's, she is disturbed.
"This is a crisis now," said Kirby-McIntosh. "Someone is going to get badly badly hurt. I don't want to wait [for more help]… in Saskatchewan a there was a kid that wandered off school property and fell into a pond and drowned."
Almost 65 per cent of the parents who responded to the OAC survey "felt that their child's teacher did not know enough about autism to effectively support their learning."
'They called police on a 9-year-old boy'
Kirby-McIntosh, who has two children with autism and has been a teacher for 25 years, says the current classroom structure needs to change. Her own son was bumped from one school to another because the staff didn't understand why he was acting out.
She says he was transferred without an integration program and lasted a week at the new school before having a meltdown.
"They called police on a 9-year-old boy… I can wear my mom hat and I can see it through a teacher's eyes as well," said Kirby-McIntosh.
"One in six students have some sort of special need," she said.
"Right now in a busy classroom with lots of learning differences, teachers and [educational assistants] are playing a kind of whack-a-mole ... 'Okay, deal with this kids in crisis. Oh, wait. There goes the other one.'"
More support staff and training needed
In a statement sent to CBC Toronto, the Ministry of Education says it's "committed to providing dedicated supports to students with autism" and for the past year it has "been consulting with parents, experts, teachers, educators, as well as members of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Committee to better understand how to best support these students."
The government also announced a $5 million one-year pilot project on Wednesday, where educational assistants in certain school boards will receive intensive applied behavioural analysis training (ABA).
Both Kirby-McIntosh and Levesque call this a step in the right direction, but say much more is needed.
"I'm so tired and devastated of always seeing stories of children locked in classrooms or handcuffed by police," said Levesque. "These kids are geniuses and have potential, but they need help and we can't be excluding them based on their needs."