Region's Catholic board asked to reconsider private support for autistic kids

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board is being asked to reconsider its policy about working with private service providers.

'We could add a benefit to their day,' consultant says of being in the classroom with clients

Behavioural consultant Shawna Fleming works with autistic children and students with other learning disabilities in Waterloo region. (Breaking Barriers)

The Waterloo Catholic District School board is being asked to reconsider its policy about working with private professionals in order to help students with autism and learning disabilities.

Behavioural consultant Shawna Fleming told the board her work shouldn't have to end when a student goes to school. 

"I feel that we could add a benefit to their day ... but right now the school will meet with us for in person meetings but won't allow us in the classroom to observe the child," she said. 

Speaking at the board's trustee's meeting on Monday night, she requested more consistent access to classrooms to observe and work with the students.

Fleming said most of her clients receive a treatment called IBI, or intensive behavioural intervention. 

"They receive about 20 to 40 hours of services from us every single week, so we know them pretty well," Fleming told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris.

Spending that much time with students, she said, she knows the challenges students face in school firsthand. They could help both the students and the school by working with their clients in the classroom or provide programming for the school.  

"They can struggle with how to appropriately ask for breaks, understand how to communicate their wants and needs, they can struggle to interact with their peers, they can struggle to attend and stay focused on a task," Fleming said.

"The staff working with the children are amazing and so dedicated to those children, but they don't have the behaviour training that myself and my staff have."

'We don't feel we're out of step'

The board doesn't plan to change its policy any time soon. 

"We're not averse to case-by-case requests for an observation, but in terms of the full spectrum of her request, no, we're not moving in that direction," Loretta Notten, director of education at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, told CBC News.

She said it's against ministry policy to allow private service providers to offer services the board already provides.

"In the case of IBI therapists, it would be argued that the board can provide the service and the accommodations that are needed for the child," Notten said.

Notten said the board already employs a full autism support team of trained professionals, including special education teachers and educational assistants. 

"There is no board that I am aware of in the province, that we're aware of at this time, that allows that as a sort of blanket access," Notten said. "We don't feel we're out of step."

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