'I'm the only voice that Braeden has': Mother says province is failing autistic son
A St. Anthony woman is joining the growing chorus of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are upset with the level of care for those living with autism.
Krista Hancock-Hillier says her 13-year-old son has not been receiving the treatment he's needed since entering the school system.
At age 4, Hancock-Hillier's son Braeden was diagnosed with autism and began to receive treatment shortly after.
Until he entered primary school, Braeden worked closely with a home therapist, who helped him learn appropriate behaviours through direct interaction.
But Hancock-Hillier says the home treatment didn't last long; when Braeden was due to enter school, the level of care available to him changed.
Braeden was receiving speech language pathology sessions and doing all this therapy and then, when he goes to school, all of that basically drops off.- Krista Hancock-Hillier
"Braeden was receiving speech language pathology sessions and doing all this therapy and then, when he goes to school, all of that basically drops off."
"We've seen regression in him since probably Grade 2 and that's when the home therapy stopped," she said in an interview with the St. John's Morning Show.
Lack of services available for autistic children
According to Hancock-Hillier, the lack of services in the province means her child has been abandoned, even as she's sought further help.
"I went to the autism society and I went to my MHA."
"I'm just told it's the province and the lack of services within the province for children with autism," she says. "So there's nothing that can be done because there's no speech language pathologist for [her son's] school."
The matter is further complicated for Hancock-Hillier by the fact that her son is verbal, which means that he is placed lower on the list for services.
The few options available for children with autism are slanted towards those in severe need. Hancock-Hillier says that isn't okay.
"We can't build on his language, we can't build on his articulation, because he's got some language."
"We should be facilitating that and encouraging his growth."
Son is struggling at school
Instead, she says her son is struggling at school and she's at a loss of how she can help him.
"He's been running away from school and everything, out of the classroom."
"He's got no student assistant. They're actually trying to look at getting walkie-talkies so that they can get in contact with another teacher to get him back to class."
The first few times this happened, Hancock-Hillier acted the only way she knew how, she pulled him out of school.
"He was out of school for a whole week, until the government actually got back to me and said, 'You know, we're going to look at putting something into place for this child.'"
"To me, it's a safety risk if no one can look after my child to make sure he's in the classroom and safe?"
Quit job to provide further care
Hancock-Hillier says that she's also had to put her work life on the back burner, to the detriment of her continued employment.
"From January to March, I couldn't get that child to stay in school for a whole day."
I'm the only voice that Braeden has. There's no one that's going to fight for my child, only me.- Krista Hancock-Hillier
"I had to leave a government position, I exhausted my sick leave, I went on unpaid sick leave, I did the unemployment insurance sick leave and then I was left with nothing."
Beyond the emotional toll of living with a child that has autism, Hancock-Hillier says it's also taken a financial toll.
But she feels like she has no other choice but to speak out on her son's behalf.
"I'm the only voice that Braeden has. There's no one that's going to fight for my child, only me."
Changes need to be made
Hancock-Hillier would like to see changes made so there is no gap in care from the time a child starts school and when they turn 18.
"The time in between is when you go through the most problems with your child and there's no support," she says.
From four to six, she says that kids with autism can get home therapy.
But from school age to 18, the responsibility for the child's care lies solely with the parent.
Hancock-Hillier would like to see a team put in place to ensure that care doesn't stop once a child starts school.
If she had her way, autistic students would each have a student assistant to help them through school.
"Autistic children don't thrive on inclusion, they thrive with one-on-one."