COVID-19: Edmonton family anxious about what education cuts mean for son with autism

COVID-19: Edmonton family anxious about what education cuts mean for son with autism

An Edmonton father is frustrated with the Alberta government’s decision to cut school board funding, after a plan to provide his autistic son with an educational assistant was paused.

On Saturday, the province said it was temporarily cutting funding for educational assistants, substitute teachers, busing and other services while classes are cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel with the lack of understanding of what these decisions mean to everyday citizens,” Dean Trottier said Sunday.

The news appeared to catch school boards off guard. Two weeks ago Alberta Education MinisterAdriana LaGrangesaid the funding would not change.

So far none of the boards have been able to say what jobs or services will be lost as a result of the cuts.

Trottier’s youngest son, three-year-old Charlie, was set to have an educational assistant start working with him in his house for three hours a day starting on Monday.

Now the organization that funds that assistant has paused the plan while it figures out what the government’s decision means.

The family had already set up for those visits by preparing a schedule for Charlie to learn about keeping sustained attention, fine motor skills and shapes and colours.

It’s that kind of one-on-one attention that young kids with autism need,Trottier said,

Without it, he said “Charlie’s development will stall at best, if not regress.”

The family got to try out having an educational assistant for Charlie for two days before deciding to have one everyday.

It was helpful for Charlie and allowed Trottier to focus on his older son who has ADHD.

“For the three hours a day she was with him I was able to focus on my other son and that way we could really prioritize his school for those three hours.”

Charlie’s educational assistant was provided throughChildren’s Autism Services of Edmonton (CASE) which gets funding from multiple sources, including the school boards.

Executive director Terri Duncan says she has put services on hold just for Monday while her organization tries to figure out what the government cuts mean. She said she plans to have services up and running again.

For kids with severe autism, having an education assistant is a requirement, she said.

“This is like groceries. This is not an optional ‘it would be great if’ kind of support. The ability of the kids in a family to function from day-to-day depends on the supports that they get.”

Duncan said the government hasn’t been clear about whether the cuts would apply to services like hers that provide urgent care.

“We got swept up in all of this, and there are other agencies like ours that get swept up in these global education decisions.”

In its announcement Saturday, the provincial government said it would be up to the school authorities to decide how services were cut.

In urgent cases, workers are not focused on reading and math like a standard classroom, but are instead helping children learn to self-regulate and avoid meltdowns, Duncan said.

The Ministry ofCommunity and Social Services’Family Support for Children with Disabilities program, where CASE also gets its funding, is allowing organizations to be flexible with where they spend their money.

That means a worker may still be able to come into the home if it is considered respite care, Duncan said.

Trottier said he feels stuck in limbo.

“I guess I’m stuck between picking which kid I can support (at one time.) There’s just too much required to do at the same time if they’re both home.”

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