Education cuts hurt son with autism, says Midale mom

A mother from Midale, Sask., is speaking out about cuts in the education system and how they are impacting families in the province living with autism.

Province says more can be done to support families living with autism spectrum disorder

Katie Emde talks to reporters Wednesday about how education cuts have affected her family. Emde, who is from Midale, Sask., says the biggest impact to her son, who has autism, is the loss of an occupational therapist in the local school division. (CBC News)

School has been more of a struggle this year for Katie Emde's six-year-old son following the loss of the school division's occupational therapist.

Emde, whose family is from Midale, Sask., was in the Saskatchewan legislature on Wednesday to highlight what she says are real challenges for families like hers living with autism spectrum disorder.

"There are families and children that are struggling right now to get through our education system due to the cuts that have happened," she said.

Helping her son through the day

Last year, the Southeast Cornerstone School Division had an occupational therapist that worked as part of an "amazing" team to help Emde's son, Avery, meet his daily goals and tasks, and finding trigger moments and guiding her son's school in how to deal with crisis moments, she said.

Emde feels that professional guidance is critical to helping people living with autism get through the day, "and no one is doing that now."

It's really making parents have to think about sending their kids to school.- Katie Emde, mother of three

Emde said since her son was diagnosed with autism, her family has faced struggles in the health and education systems. From talking with other families living with autism, it has become clear to Emde that many are facing the same problems.

"It's really making parents have to think about sending their kids to school," she said, adding some parents are choosing to forego one income and home-school their children instead.

Families at 'breaking point,' says NDP MLA

During question period, NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon pressed the premier to respond if the government would live up to its promises to families who are living with autism, some of whom are at the "breaking point."  

"Unfortunately the Sask. Party's cuts have meant that speech and language services in the division are virtually non-existent," he said.

Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre said the government has provided more than $250 million to supports for learning this year, in the midst of what she called a "challenging budget year."

Province pledges extra $2.9 million for next year

Pressed by Wotherspoon to respond directly, Premier Brad Wall said that when the Sask. Party formed government more than 10 years ago, the former NDP government only provided half a million dollars a year in supports for autism.

"We have worked hard to make a change in that. We've worked hard to commit to $7.9 million in this budget," he said, acknowledging that this is still not enough, and saying the province is committed to doing more.

During last year's election campaign, the Sask. Party pledged more in individualized supports for children with autism. It would have provided $4,000 per child under the age of six beginning this year, doubling to $8,000 per child by 2020. However, the government said it could not afford to begin the program this year.

Wall said the province will commit $2.9 million for individualized funding for children with autism in 2018.  

Emde said she and her husband want to shine a light on the impact of cuts to families, and she hopes the province can do more for those living with autism.  

"I actually honestly believe that this province can do better for everyone."