adhd-peter-howe

Peter Howe says his ADHD symptoms have eased, according to his mother. ((Submitted by Victoria Patacairk))

Schools in Canada's three most populous provinces received failing grades in a national report on how their special education systems recognize and support students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The Centre for ADHD Advocacy Canada (CADDAC) released its report on inconsistencies across Canada in how students with ADHD are identified, understood and accommodated in school systems.

The group used interviews with ministries of education for the assessments.

Schools systems in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec earned grades of unsatisfactory/fail.

"Using the terminology of provincial report cards, three provinces received a grade of 'unsatisfactory,' " according to the report. "However, we would like to go so far as to say they are actually failing to provide access to services."

School systems in these provinces bar students with ADHD from being recognized as students with a disability, which prevents them from accessing special education services unless they have a second learning disability or another diagnosed disorder.

These students won't receive special accommodations in how they are taught or evaluated.

"The major issue in this is that there's inequity across Canada in how students with ADHD can be identified as an exceptional student, which then gives them the right to accommodation," said Heidi Bernhardt, the group's national director.

Bernhardt has three adult sons with ADHD who are now out of the educational system.

Lack of recognition of ADHD can also influence an educator's belief in ADHD as a legitimate disorder that impacts a student's learning, the group said.

CADDAC said it also receives the most calls from distressed parents in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec.

"The school systems don't have the resources," said Victoria Patacairk of Ottawa, whose nine-year-old son, Peter Howe, has ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder and physical tics from Tourette's syndrome.  

Other parents often don't appreciate the importance of the 10 to 20 extra minutes per week that teachers spend with a child with ADHD. That time can make the difference in preventing the child from falling through the cracks, she said.

Patacairk is pleased with how principals, teachers and others in the Ottawa Catholic school board have accommodated her son. He is now on a new medication and feeling much better, following years of experimenting with different techniques and coping strategies.

Patacairk said she's willing to pay more taxes for fewer interruptions and more interaction in the classroom for Peter and all of his fellow students.

Awareness campaign launches

The grading system was based on awarding stars in five categories such as officially identifying exceptional learners.

Here are the provinces and territories that received a grade of "satisfactory with concerns," because there is a lack of formal identification of students with special needs:

  • Northwest Territories.
  • Prince Edward Island.
  • Nunavut.

 These provinces received a "satisfactory" grade:

  • Manitoba.
  • New Brunswick.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Nova Scotia.

Alberta and Saskatchewan were awarded a grade of "excellent," or five stars out of five.

Saskatchewan achieved high marks by increasing the number of categories to recognize the needs of more students, Bernhardt said.

The Yukon ministry offered a representative to speak to CADDAC, but a date was never set despite frequent attempts, so the territory wasn't graded.

The Ontario ministry did not contact the group, although more than one face-to-face meeting occurred before this year, and CADDAC said it is possible the ministry did not feel a follow-up meeting was needed.

Ontario, B.C. respond

The Ontario Ministry of Education said it is committed to supporting students with special education needs in the province.

"That is why we have increased the funding by $687 million since 2002-03, or by 42 per cent, bringing our provincial total to $2.31 billion a year," ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said in an email to CBC News.

Wheeler noted the province's special education grant provides services and supports for any student identified as being in need by education teams, regardless of whether the student is identified as an exceptional student.

A spokesman for B.C.'s Education Ministry said staff are reviewing the report to identify areas to improve.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all solutions for students with special needs in B.C. Rather, funding goes to school districts so educators can work with parents, medical professionals and community workers to tailor a student's education plan, the spokesman said.

Quebec's education minister was not available to comment Wednesday.

CADDAC said it hopes the research will stimulate education ministries to review their policies and practices for students with ADHD to ensure these students receive accommodations and resources to help them to meet their full academic potential regardless of where they live in the country.

The group is also launching a public awareness campaign that calls on parents touched by the issue to contact their MPP and Ministry of Education with their concerns.

With files from The Canadian Press