Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. woman in Alberta says same supports aren't available back home for autistic daughter

A Newfoundlander living in Alberta says she can't move home with her family because the same level of supports don't exist for her autistic daughter.

Stacey Campbell says she pays $500 annually for assistance; some parents in N.L. spend $5K

Stacey Campbell says she would love to be able to move back to Newfoundland with her family, but they can't leave Alberta because of the excellent school supports available for her four-year-old autistic daughter, Lucie. (Submitted by Stacey Campbell)

A Newfoundlander living in Alberta says she can't move home with her family because the same level of supports don't exist for her autistic daughter.

CBC Investigates recently found that some parents of children with special needs are paying thousands of dollars each year on outside supports, like tutoring and assistive technologies, to ensure that their kids are successful in the Newfoundland and Labrador school system.

They say there aren't enough resources available in their kids' inclusive classrooms.

Stacey Campbell is originally from Norman's Cove, Trinity Bay, and her husband is from Cape St. George on the west coast. They currently live in Fort McMurray with their one-year-old twins, and their four-year-old daughter, Lucie-Reine.

Campbell says they would love to move back home to the island.

"In a heartbeat. We wouldn't think twice about it — if the support was there," she said. 

"We would have family support back home as well, where we don't have it here. But unfortunately, here is where everything is that she needs. So we're not going anywhere."

Early intervention program

Over the past year, Lucie has been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, OCD, and autism. She needs constant one-on-one supervision, because she has a tendency to wander, and she uses an iPad with specialized apps to communicate.

Campbell says the early intervention program at her daughter's school in Fort McMurray is making a big difference.

"We wouldn't be as far as we are with her if it wasn't for this program," she said.

Four-year-old Lucie Campbell was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, OCD, and autism. (Submitted by Stacey Campbell)
Lucie is currently in early kindergarten — which she attends for about three hours in the afternoon, five days a week. She will do two years of that program, and possibly a third if it's needed. Then, Campbell says, Lucie will go into an inclusive classroom for kindergarten.

"There's another girl in her class right now that has a one-on-one [educational assistant (EA)], like she does, and then there's some other students that have a three-on-one EA — that's in addition to the teacher and the class's EA," Campbell said.

Lucie also gets speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy sessions through the school program.

The school also has sensory rooms, which have equipment like swings, crash pads, and bean bags. Children with special needs can go into these rooms to bring themselves down to a calm, stable mood, so that they can go back into the inclusive classroom with the other students.

Campbell says it's an amazing program that's unique to Fort McMurray, offered through the Catholic school board.

Missing supports

Campbell says she did some research into programs that are available for Lucie in Newfoundland, but she was discouraged with what she found.

"The only thing home would be private tutors and such, which... unless my insurance paid for something, it would all be out of pocket," she said.

"The only early intervention that's home right now is a couple of hours once a month — and that's not even handy to what Lucie needs. She needs hours upon hours a day."

Comparing costs

Campbell says she pays $500 annually for Lucie's program in Fort McMurray; all other costs are covered through the Alberta government and the Catholic school board. 

CBC Investigates learned that some parents in Newfoundland and Labrador are paying upwards of $5,000 a year on outside supports.

Campbell says she wishes she could get the same level of support for her daughter in Newfoundland.

"It would make everything so much better," she said, noting that both sets of grandparents live on the island.

"They have aunts and uncles in Newfoundland, and cousins there. And they see them once a year — if we're able to travel, because travelling with Lucie is extremely difficult with her sensory issues."

About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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