Kitchener-Waterloo

Parents of children with autism struggle to keep up with work, education demands

Parents of children with autism are dealing with a decrease in therapy for their children. Janet McLaughlin says her eight-year-old son, Sebastian, now gets two hours of virtual therapy every day.

'I gave myself permission to relax my expectations' says mom Janet McLaughlin

Janet McLaughlin is an autism researcher and associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and the mother of a son with autism. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Parents of children with autism are dealing with a decrease in therapy for their children.

Janet McLaughlin says her eight-year-old son, Sebastian, now gets two hours of virtual therapy every day.

Before physical-distancing measures were put in place, Sebastian saw three therapists who spent four hours per day working on his speech and language skills. 

He also worked with a music therapist on a weekly basis.

Janet says her son, who is on the autism spectrum, has lost some of the progress he made in certain areas, and she has seen new behaviour patterns emerge.

"Right now, his obsession is seeing inside people's houses. And so he will often have a meltdown if he can't see the interior of a particular friend's house," said McLaughlin.

"And that's not something we were experiencing before the lockdown."

While she feels he is getting some structure and continued learning, McLaughlin says it's nowhere near the level he was getting before.

McLaughlin is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and has been trying to manage work from home as well as schooling her children.

Working from home and helping her children with their virtual school work went from being anxiety-producing and upsetting to becoming more "manageable in a way," said McLaughlin.

It's more manageable because it's now routine, she said. 

Most days she says she feels stretched thin and doesn't think she's doing anything well. 

"I just can't do all of these things perfectly," said McLaughlin. "I gave myself permission to relax my expectations a little bit and just realize that given the gravity of the circumstances, there's no way I could possibly be achieving everything. I still feel a lot of guilt though."

Virtual therapy sessions

Kidsability Centre for Child Development has between 800 and 900 virtual therapy appointments per week. 

CEO Linda Kenny said they have been able to move a majority of their clients onto a virtual platform, but she worries about the 25 per cent of clients who decided not to start virtual therapy.

"As we see the province start to open up a little bit ... we're actively planning to be able to hopefully bring [them] back on site and be able to see them in some sort of face to face way," said Kenny. 

When that will happen remains unclear.

with files from CBC's Craig Norris

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