Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. Election: Autism 'is a crisis,' says Elaine Dobbin

Autism has become an issue in the Newfoundland and Labrador election, and philanthropist Elaine Dobbin says more needs to be done to help those living with the disorder.
Elaine Dobbin, stanidng in front of the centre that bears her name, says autism is an epidemic. (CBC)

Autism has become an issue in the Newfoundland and Labrador election, and philanthropist Elaine Dobbin says more needs to be done to help those living with the disorder.

"It's like an epidemic, this is a crisis," said Dobbin told the St. John's Morning Show, during it's #fixitnl. segment.

Not equipped

Dobbin is an honorary board member with the Autism Society in Newfoundland and Labrador (ASNL) and helping those affected by the disorder has been a big part of her life. 

Krista Hancock-Hillier, pictured here with her son, is asking for increased support and services for autistic children in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted )

She said stories like Krista Hancock-Hillier's 13-year-old son Braeden and the lack of support are ones she hears of too often.

ASNL emerged as a service provider simply because the government was not doing what they should be doing.- Elaine Dobbin

She said schools in the province are not equipped to teach children with autism.

"Teachers in inclusive classrooms cannot help because they don't know how … and children with autism in a lot of places need one on ones," said Dobbin. 

Krista Hancock-Hillier of St. Anthony says her teenage son, who has autism, needs more support in school and his community.

Dobbin said while the lack of training for teachers is one of the biggest problems, occupational therapists in the schools are a must.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada without them.

"I do know that not having them in the school system is costing the government much, much more in the long run," Dobbin said.

"Teachers just don't know enough about autism and the strategies that work — it's special training," 

She added that government should provide mandatory autism (ASD) training for current teachers and for university graduates before they are able to enter the educational system.

'We're filling the gap'

Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the highest rates of autism in the country and Dobbin said that early intervention is key. 

She said the need for services is great and government needs to strengthen them before it creates bigger problems. 

She fears as children grow older their aging parents will be unable to care for them. There are already cases like this in the province.

"These young children are going to grow as adults and they're going to end up on the doorsteps of the provincial government," said Dobbin.

Dobbin said the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador has an annual budget of around $1.6 million and the government only provides 45 percent of that.

The rest is acquired through fundraising and generous supporters in the community.

"ASNL emerged as a service provider simply because the government was not doing what they should be doing and we're filling the gap," said Dobbin.

"We have improved their lives, but the government has to come to the party on this."

Live blog

Get continuous updates from the campaign trail through our live blog.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?