Nova Scotia

Amid outcry from parents, Nova Scotia confident in school plan to help kids with autism

Nova Scotia's education minister says schools across the province are ready to help children with autism who couldn't complete an intensive therapy program and legally must start school this fall because of their age.

Parents asking for exemption to allow their children to complete EIBI program

Hands-on sessions for a program that helps children with autism were stopped for months because of COVID-19. As a result, 70 Nova Scotia children had partial therapy, while another 30 had none at all. (Zahraa Photography/Shutterstock)

Nova Scotia's education minister says schools across the province are ready to help children with autism who couldn't complete an intensive therapy program and legally must start school this fall because of their age.

Zach Churchill's comments come after parents voiced growing concerns they were being left in the dark.

Some parents are calling on the minister to grant them an exemption, and let their children finish the early intensive behavioural intervention program (EIBI), which is supposed to help children develop social and communication skills for school.

But when asked Thursday, the minister indicated that's not in the cards.

"I believe the literature states the therapy is best for preschool-age children," he said.

"We are dealing with a cohort of kids that are no longer of preschool age, that are school age and will be moving into school and so we just have to do our very best to support them in that transition."

Alexander Henneberry was nearing the final phase of his therapy for autism when the EIBI program shut down. His family is hoping his school will be able to continue the work. (Submitted by Ashley Henneberry)

EIBI's hands-on sessions were stopped for months because of COVID-19. As a result, 70 children had partial therapy, while another 30 had none at all.

Churchill said they bulked up on their resources in schools and partnered with Autism Nova Scotia.

"There's been $45 million, including what's in the system this year, for inclusive education support," he said, pointing to a number of specialists who have been hired to work in the schools, including speech language pathologists and autism specialists.

"These folks are there to support our students, our teachers, and helping them transition into the school environment."

Earlier in July, a spokesperson for EIBI said even if an exemption was granted, they couldn't continue working with this group of children because there are 300 more waiting to start.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says his department started working on improvements to EIBI before the pandemic hit Nova Scotia. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

About 3,600 people have signed an online petition, led by parent Kyle Gracie, calling for more money to support the program. Autism Nova Scotia said Wednesday it was supporting the parents and agreed with the push for more funding.

The petition was sent to Health Minister Randy Delorey and the premier earlier in the week. On Thursday, Delorey said he had not seen it, but his staff might be aware of it.

'Path forward has not been charted,' says health minister

He said the EIBI problems were on his radar before they were exacerbated by COVID-19.

"I did have staff working to identify recommendations," he said. "That path forward has not been charted just yet."

While parents maintain they still don't know what is happening in September, Churchill said he's confident with the plan in place.

"We work with parents to identify needs of those students and develop a transition plan to get them into school and help them do their very best."

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About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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