Manitoba

'It's heartbreaking': boy with autism denied class assistant

Jacob Reid, 11, is excited for Grade 6 but his parents are dreading it — it's the first year he will be without an educational assistant.

Arlene Reid says her son Jacob, 11, is being denied access to an educational assistant

Arlene Reid's son Jacob, 11, lives with autism. She fears he's being set up for failure as he goes back to school this fall without the support of an educational assistant. (Jill Coubrough/CBC News)

Jacob Reid unpacks his pencil case full of shiny new supplies — pencils, glue and his favourite: colourful Post-it notes.

The 11-year-old's excitement for Grade 6 is palpable, but his parents are dreading it because he's been denied the support of an educational assistant.

"They're setting him up for failure, is the way my husband and I look at it," Arlene Reid, Jacob's mother, told CBC News.

"Let alone having to deal with a child with autism, but knowing that nobody else is behind you is heartbreaking."

Jacob lives with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has a developmental delay. Since kindergarten, he's had one-on-one support in the classroom from an educational assistant (EA).

Reid said the EA was there "to make sure that he got the jobs done that he needs to do and stayed on track … make sure he went to the bathroom regularly — stuff that people take for granted but not all kids can do."

But Reid said this year, despite the family's request, the school resource department did not file an application for EA funding from the province for Jacob.

Reid said she was told that special education evaluators deemed her son was high-functioning and no longer met the criteria.

"His condition has never changed. In fact, I would say it's getting worse," she said. "He's on medication that needs to be monitored … so how can you not fund somebody that needs the support?"

Reid added, "This is such a sad thing to say, but if I knew that the people who were going to observe him were coming, I would not have put him on his medication that day…. Then they would see what he's like and why he needs the supports."

Winnipeg School Division responds

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division says funding for special education supports is evaluated and granted on a case-by-case basis, based on the needs of the student.

The division confirms that Jacob Reid was approved for funding until Grade 4, at which point the school reapplied but was denied. However, he was granted an extra year with an educational assistant "for integration purposes."

The division says it is not ruling out reapplying for Jacob later this year, but it needs to see how he does without an EA first. 

"When an application for funding is declined by the province, in our experience, new information is needed that would show the student meets the province's criteria for funding," the division spokesperson said.

"In this case, the student support team at the school, which includes the family, is documenting his needs and progress as well as having additional assessments done to support a reapplication for funding this winter."

The division would not comment as to why Jacob did not meet the criteria.

His mother said she does not know how her son is going to cope without an aid, never mind keep up.

"There will be nobody there to help him when he gets upset. The teacher will be there, but she's got 30 other kids. She can't be spending all her time taking care of my child," she said.

'Autism doesn't magically disappear'

Reid said she does not blame the school or the division, but she blames the system. She believes once a child is diagnosed with a learning disability and support is approved, it should see the student through to graduation.

"Autism doesn't magically disappear," said Reid.

"That is a lifelong learning disability, you should be funded from K through to 12 … I don't understand why Manitoba doesn't."

Reid said while she is pleased her son's school has agreed to conduct further assessments and reapply for EA funding later this fall, she's not hopeful.

"I honestly hope he fails [the assessments]. And if he fails, there's a good chance he will get funding," she said. "However, I can't be 100 per cent guaranteed with that even.

"My biggest fear is that … the doors are going to close on him because he will not be able to get the education he deserves."

The rate of autism is up 120 per cent over the past 10 years, according to the Autism Society of Canada. One in every 68 children are born with an autism spectrum disorder.

Researchers in Manitoba say the definition of autism is now wider and doctors are getting better at diagnosing it.

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