Campaign launched to build Fort McMurray developmental disability treatment centre

Fort McMurray families whose loved ones have autism or other developmental disabilities are supporting calls for the construction of a one-stop centre that would offer care.

‘I’ve seen the need that exists in Fort McMurray, and it is pressing’

Nine families and allies attended a news conference Wednesday in Fort McMurray to announce the launch of a campaign called 'More than Just Bricks.' (David Thurton/ CBC)

Fort McMurray families whose loved ones have autism or other developmental disabilities are calling for a one-stop centre that would offer care.

The Autism Society of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Educare Early Intervention have launched a two- to five-year campaign to raise about $4 million needed to build a facility to cater to families in northeast Alberta.

Kirsti Mardell and Melanie Bellows were among those who endorsed the creation of the campaign at a news conference in Fort McMurray on Wednesday.

Mardell said some support services are available for her eight-year-old son, Quentin, who has autism. But she often needs to go to Edmonton to access specialist care.

"Having to leave the community to go to another community, it's troublesome for him to navigate all of that," Mardell said. "If we can have a space here in Fort McMurray that he knows, it just makes it better for everybody."

Bellows said driving Highway 63 to Edmonton is costly and can be "treacherous" in the winter time. Being confined to a car for more than four hours, she said, is tough for her son.

"A lot of people don't understand kids with autism," Bellow said. "They are not comfortable sometimes travelling. My son, we have to stop many times to let him out and have a break."

'A huge benefit'

Danielle Dureault, a speech-language pathologist with Educare Early Intervention, said resources for children with disabilities are located in Edmonton or as far away as Red Deer.

She said she hopes the campaign called "More than Just Bricks" will provide not only a building but also partnerships with the health-care system, schools and businesses.

The campaign will appeal for help from the government, companies and the general public.

"I think this is going to be a huge benefit for families here," Dureault said.

Terri Duncan, executive director of Children's Autism Services in Edmonton, said the construction of Edmonton's first stand-alone treatment centre, the Maier Centre, was "transformative."

She said the same would be true in Fort McMurray if the campaign gets the support it needs.

"I've seen the need that exists in Fort McMurray, and it is pressing," Duncan said in a news release. "When a diagnosis of autism is received, parents need a team to start treatment immediately. Waiting can be disastrous."

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About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.