Long Waits Persist for Individuals with Mild to Moderate Autism

On March 4th, the Victoria-based Times Colonist published an article highlighting the plight of Anna Tobias, a mom who waited six months for her son, George, to be diagnosed with mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder and then another year for him to be assigned a support worker while he’s in daycare. Her story, unfortunately is not a rare one – especially for individuals who are diagnosed with mild to moderate forms of autism spectrum disorder.

George, now 4 1/2, theoretically has 24 hours a week of one-to-one support, but a lack of child-care staff and rules on when he can access that support means that he is sometimes left struggling.

The provincial and federal governments recently announced major investments in child care in B.C., including money to improve programs for children with special needs. Tobias is sharing her story to shed light on some of the shortcomings of the current system.

The B.C. government currently gives families of children under six up to $22,000 a year to pay for autism-related therapies, including a one-to-one support worker while the child is at daycare. However, wait lists make this challenging and can hinder development at such a critical stage of a child\’s development.

There are many barriers including finding the right staff as well as a system that is often inflexible to parents working shift work. To be eligible for the funding, Island Health requires parents to be at work or in school during the hours when the child is in daycare. Parents who work nine to five wouldn\’t have an issue but those that work shifts and weekends, have issues in getting support when they need it.

The federal government is giving B.C. $153 million over three years to help reduce child-care fees for parents, create 1,370 new infant and toddler spaces, and provide bursaries and grants to recruit new early childhood educators. Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s minister of children and family development, has said that some of those funds will be used to enhance programs for children with special needs. The province has earmarked $1 billion over three years to lower fees, provide child-care subsidies for low- and middle-income families and create 22,000 child-care spaces.

Tobias\’ story demonstrates that all of the new initiatives by the B.C. government are important and appreciated, however, the system also needs a structural overhaul to really assist families across the province who don\’t necessarily fit a nine to five schedule. Tobias also hopes that child-care providers will be given funding to increase wages for early childhood educators and behaviour interventionists. Without that, it is hard to maintain and attract good people to work as support workers.

To check out the full article, visit the article in the Times Colonist.