London

'I feel bad for the teachers,' says London, Ont., mom about new autism policy

Teachers will have a hard time dealing with children on the autism spectrum while trying to educate dozens more kids in their classrooms, parents warn.

'They're going to have a hard time keeping him in the school, let alone educating him,' says mom

(Submitted)

Teachers will have a hard time dealing with children on the autism spectrum while trying to educate dozens more kids in their classrooms, parents warn. 

Ontario's education minister unveiled a plan Monday to help teachers who will see more children with autism in classrooms when a new policy comes into practice this spring. 

The changes mean kids who would normally receive intensive one-on-one therapy will instead be integrated into regular classrooms. Schools will get extra money for the students, and starting next year, teachers will be given extra training. 

But moms of children with autism say it's not nearly enough. 

"I feel bad for the teachers, honestly," said Sarah Farrants, whose three-year-old Mason will be starting school in September. 

"It's good that they're putting some funding in, but these poor teachers. Mason is going to go to school and they're going to have a hard enough time keeping him safe, let alone educating him. 

"It's great that these teachers are going to take this program and be trained to be better with autistic children, but he or she still has 29 other children at the end of the day."

Brandi Tapp and Sarah Farrants went to Queen's Park to meet face-to-face with Minister of Social Services Lisa McLeod to voice their concerns over the government's new autism program. They say the program will leave their children without the care they need. 9:03

Mason was on a list, like thousands of other autistic children, waiting for a spot for intensive one-on-one behavioural therapy. He's been getting occupational and speech therapy while waiting. 

But the province scrapped the wait list, opting instead to give parents a lump sum of money to use for whatever therapy they want. Parents say it's tens of thousands of dollars less than what is actually needed. 

"We were on the waitlist for 30 to 40 hours of (intensive behavioural intervention) therapy. The speech and occupational therapy is supplementary." 

'It's terrifying'

Forrants says Mason runs away and takes focused one-on-one supervision, which is unlikely in a classroom setting. 

"I will never be fully comfortable sending him, and that's not a reflection on the staff," Forrants said. "It's just I know my own child, and I know for me what it's like being with him one-on-one, and if he's with that many other children and the adult has to spread their attention equally, I will always fear for him going to school." 

Another London mom, Brandi Tapp, whose son is in a regular junior kindergarten classroom with a full-time educational assistant, says the new move by the educatin ministry is "smoke and mirrors." 

"If that one-on-one EA doesn't continue, he can't go back to school," Tapp said. "All of this is totally out of touch and totally inappropriate for what people need." 

Almost worse than the changes is the uncertainty about what will be funded and available for families, Tapp said. 

"It's terrifying and it's been this way for weeks. If they remove his EA, they've removed every support he has outside the home." 

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