Sunday, April 20, 2014

Canada's Autism Disgrace 2007: 2014 Update

Photo from 

In December 2007 I wrote Canada's Autism Disgrace, describing the lack of a real National Autism Strategy in Canada.  It is now 2014 and nothing has changed. Canada still lacks a real National Autism Strategy. The words I wrote in 2007, reprinted below, are as true and accurate today as they were then:

What is Canada's National Autism Strategy? The answer is simple; we don't have one. And as long as Stephen Harper's Reform-Alliance-Conservative government rules Canada with an iron fist we will not have a National Autism Strategy. My friends of Conservative background in Canada may not like it but that is the hard brutal truth. Canada will not have a real National Autism Strategy as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada. 

We certainly had the beginnings of a National Autism Strategy with the passing of the Andy Scott-Peter Stoffer motion in the House of Commons. And MP Shawn Murphy fought the good fight with his private member's initiative; defeated in the House of Commons by the alliance between the Harper Conservatives and the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Senator Jim Munson has continued his valiant efforts to keep the need to address Canada's national autism crisis alive in the media but even those efforts are becoming more challenging as the Harper-Clement team simply ignores these initiatives, ignores the needs of autistic children and adults in Canada, and proves day in and day out that they don't give a damn about the fate of autistic Canadians. 

The National Autism Strategy of Prime Minister Harper really amounted to nothing but a mediocre web site and a promise of a National Autism Symposium. The National Autism Symposium was postponed when it became clear that real autism advocates, parents fighting for their autistic children, wanted to attend the symposium. A second symposium was scheduled for November 8 and 9 in Toronto. The invitation process was itself secretive, parents were largely unrepresented and any outspoken advocates were intentionally excluded from the Symposium. 

The lists of speakers and symposium themes were never made public. The list of Harper government, hand picked delegates, to the symposium was never made public although it is a good bet that anti-ABA activists like Michelle Dawson and Laurent Mottron would have been invited. The Quirks and Quarks duo rarely miss an opportunity to promote their fringe anti-ABA views, contrary to hundreds of studies over 5 decades and numerous reviews of those studies by organizations such as the US Office of the Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that ABA is a scientifically supported, evidence based, effective treatment for autism. Their long held, closed minded views, so at odds with mainstream professional opinion, come in handy when needed by a government seeking excuses to camouflage their do nothing approach to addressing Canada's National Crisis. Just a guess, but I am betting that the Harper team was quite happy to invite Mottron and Dawson to the invisible, forgotten, National Autism Symposium. 

The Autism Symposium went ahead on November 8 and 9 in Toronto and Canadians STILL don't know a thing about what was said; or what conclusions, if any, were reached. It is likely though that the Harper spin doctors will ultimately issue a summary indicating that there is lack of agreement on issues on the effectiveness of any one intervention in treating autism. The results of hundreds of studies over five decades of research, the reviews by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Office of the US Surgeon General, the MADSEC Administrators, the New York and California state agencies, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment; all will be ignored. 

The views of a few fringe anti-ABA activists will be used to prop up a cynical do nothing Harper autism policy. And Canada's National Autism Strategy will remain as nothing more than what it now is - Canada's Autism Disgrace.

As I said in 2007 Canada will never have a National Autism Strategy as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada.  It is now 2014, Stephen Harper is still Prime Minister and Canada still does not have a National Autism Strategy, a real National Autism Strategy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Smiles Gang: Conor and LHHS Friends Had a Blast Last Night Going to See Rio 2 in 3D

L to R: Jesse, Christian, Kristen, Conor
Photo by Phyllis Van Dine-Humble 

This is one of my new favorite pictures of Conor, far right in the picture, taken last evening as Conor and some of his Leo Hayes High School friends went to see Rio 2 in 3D. Phyllis Van Dine-Humble took this awesome shot of the gang sharing tremendous smiles and having fun before the movie.  In attendance with Conor was excellent Education Aide, Lori Fitzgerald, who helps make every experience great for Conor. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Joel Rubinoff's Angry, Ill Informed, Misleading Autism Rhetoric

Conor Doherty on World Autism Awareness Day 2014,  as I tried to take a "selfie" of the two of us wearing blue, gave his old Dad an unexpected hug. 
which restricts his life and causes him harm. 

Joel Rubinoff father of a high functioning, smart autistic son is angry  and he is using his position as an arts and entertainment columnist to tell Canadians that parents and organizations who disagree with his feel good views of autism need "attitude adjustments".  In Joel Rubinoff's ill informed view of autism  people should not discuss autism like it is a ... disorder.  They should not talk about any of the serious, sometimes harmful, sometimes deadly deficits that actually restrict the lives of many with autism disorders, a group of neurological disorders marked by heterogeneity, complexity and variation. (See for example, Lynn Waterhouse, Rethinking Autism: Variation and Complexity)

Autism for Joel Rubinoff is Temple Grandin, Darryl Hannah, Einstein, Mozart, Bill Gates and Susan Boyle.  Forget for the moment that Einstein and Mozart lived and died before autism was a recognized disorder and that any speculation that they were autistic is exactly that ... speculation.  Rubinoff, like any of the autism is beautiful crowd that have fought against recognizing the harsher realities faced by many on the autism spectrum of disorders, likes to equate his son's autism with very smart, talented people.  Rubinoff's son is, by Rubinoff's evidence, very intelligent and  high functioning with good communication skills:

"But did you know that half way through senior kindergarten, he's already learning to read. That he can do puzzles with almost 100 pieces. That he's fascinated with space and science, and can name all the planets. That if you tell him it's Hot Dog Day at school he'll squeal with delight. "I'm so excited, Dad — I can't wait!"

Joel Rubinoff's son, like some on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum of disorders is very intelligent.  I am happy for him and his son.  My son, now 18 lives on the severe end of the autism spectrum of disorders.  He has an intellectual disability and suffers from seizures, like many on that severe end of the autism spectrum.  My son brings us, and everyone who has worked with him, great joy but his disorder limits his life severely in the ways described by the autism advocates that Rubinoff despises. 

Mr. Rubinoff appears to be unaware of sources like the World Health Organization which, in September 2013,  stated that approximately 50% of persons with an autism disorder also have an intellectual disability. Joel Rubinoff may not realize that many autistic children are prone to wandering and some lose their lives as a result. Some engage in very serious self injurious behavior as my son has done at times. 

If Mr. Rubinoff doubts what I am saying I would be happy to take the time to provide him with sources pointing to the very harsh realities facing many on the autism spectrum of disorders ... if he would start acting like a reporter/journalist and read and report to Canadians that autism is far from being about undiagnosed historical geniuses.  Nor is it only about actually diagnosed, highly intelligent children like his son.  For many including my son Conor Doherty, autism is a complex, serious disorder.  I love my son dearly and I know, contrary to Mr Rubinoff's "reporting" that my son's life is very restricted  and his future as an adult whose parents will not always be with him is very bleak. 

(For Mr. Rubinoff's benefit I am the father of a severely autistic son and I have been involved in autism advocacy for 15 years in New Brunswick where, together with fellow parent advocates, we were able to establish a model early intervention for autism program, obtain some autism educated Education Aides and Resource Teachers, and successfully fight the closure of the Stan Cassidy Centre Autism Team which treats and helps many children and young people with serious autism disorder issues, the kind of issues Mr Rubinoff appears to be unaware of.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gordon Porter's Vanity And Bill 61, An Act To Amend The Education Act, Will Result in MORE EXCLUSIONARY Education Practices in New Brunswick Schools

Gordon Porter believes that inclusive education is simple. Unfortunately most teachers, the NBTA organisation itself, aides and education administrators have been bullied and intimidated into following his simple philosophy unquestioningly even though they know it flies in the face of the truth. They know that many children are present in NB schools with complex learning, behavior, cognitive and sensory challenges which render education under any label anything but simple but they dare not speak out.  More and more children are, and with the current Bill 61, An Act to Amend the Education Act, more and more in future will be, excluded from NB schools as placement and learning options are reduced in favor of Mr Porter's regular classes and mindlessly simple philosophy.

The picture by Diane Crocker above and accompanying quotes are from the Newfoundland paper the Western Star article, "Inclusion in the classroom ‘simple,’ says educator", with highlighting added by me for emphasis:

"CORNER BROOK — Gordon Porter believes inclusion is the most natural thing in the world. The educator and director of Inclusive Education Initiatives presented a session on inclusive education at the Greenwood Inn and Suites on Thursday. Porter, who is also the editor of the Inclusive Education Canada website inclusive, spoke to parents, educators and agency professionals who deal with children with special needs at the pre-conference for the Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living Conference taking place in the city today and Saturday. The session was sponsored by the Community Inclusion Initiative. 

 Porter’s session revolved around the theme of parents and teachers working together to make inclusion work.“It means kids go to their neighbourhood schools with kids their own age in regular classes,” said Porter.“If you’re seven years, old you go to the school just down the street. You go in a class with other seven-year-olds, and you’re supported if you have extra needs. “It’s so simple, it’s that simple,” said Porter."

Gordon Porter's vanity has led to exclusive education practices in New Brunswick schools.  I know this to be true, teachers, aides and administrators in NB schools and retired teachers know this to be true. The only ones who do not know this to be true are Gordon Porter who has aggressively pushed  his own simplistic, non evidence based,  non inclusive education on NB students and schools over the past 30+ years and his NBACL followers. Mr Porter's simple (his own words) philosophy has resulted, and continues to result, in more restricted range of options for placement of children with severe learning, behavior and cognitive challenges within New Brunswick schools. By restricting the range of placement options for NB students Mr Porter has forced numbers of students including students with severe autism, cognitive and behavior challenges out of their local schools to home based learning.  

In some cases students have been locked in rooms by themselves with no supervision, some have been charged with assault, some have banned from school premises.  When the Porter, everybody in the mainstream classroom, false inclusion philosophy fails the child is blamed and he or she is banned from the so called inclusive schools of NB.  

Mr Porter can receive dozens of ribbons to pin on his chest from countries with struggling education systems but the reality in NB is that education is rapidly becoming more exclusive, less inclusive, as options that might accommodate persons with severe autistic, cognitive, sensory and obsessive behaviors are simply eliminated from schools.

My interest in the false inclusion in NB schools arises from my son's severe challenges.  He has in fact been accommodated ... by individualized instruction outside the regular classroom with ample socialization at the local swimming pool and gym and daily connection with other children in the Leo Hayes High School Resource Centre, an excellent, practical, evidence based and truly inclusive resource for children with extra needs.  The LHHS Resource Centre though is at serious risk as Gordon Porter continues to push entrenchment and expansion of his exclusionary policies in NB schools. 

My son's alternative arrangements came about in part because of our advocacy on his behalf.  I happen to be a lawyer and have some professional skills that are of assistance in communicating with education officials and advocating for our son. Some other parents are not as fortunate and some have more than one child with extra needs. 

With respect to autism spectrum disorders the University of North Carolina TEACCH program which has substantial influence in academic and professional autism circles has articulated the following position statement (underling added by me for emphasis) on inclusion of children with autism one which calls for a range of placement options.  It is an evidence based position which recognizes the heterogeneity of autism disorders and the range of accommodations required:

  1. The TEACCH program recognizes the important value of preparing all persons with autism for successful functioning within society. Each person with autism should be taught with the goal of successful functioning with as few restrictions as is possible.                                                            
  2. Decisions about including children with autism into fully integrated settings must be made consistent with the principle of the "least restrictive environment" as a guiding principle. No person with autism should be unnecessarily or inappropriately denied access to meaningful educational activities. However, it should be noted that the concept of least restrictive environment requires that appropriate learning take place. Placement decisions also require that students be capable of meaningful learning and functioning within the setting selected
  3. Activities which are inclusive for children with autism should be offered based on an individual assessment of the child's skills and abilities to function and participate in the setting. Inclusion activities are appropriate only when preceded by adequate assessment and pre-placement preparations including appropriate training. Inclusion activities typically need to be supported by professionals trained in autism who can provide assistance and objective evaluation of the appropriateness of the activity.
  4. Inclusion should never replace a full continuum of service delivery, with different students with autism falling across the full spectrum. Full inclusion should be offered to all persons with autism who are capable of success in fully integrated settings. Partial inclusion is expected to be appropriate for other clients with autism. And special classes and schools should be retained as an option for those students with autism for whom these settings are the most meaningful and appropriate.
Mr Porter's obsession with everybody in the classroom philosophy will hurt many more children as it becomes even more entrenched by the current Bill 61, An Act to Amend the Education Act, which will, once passed into law, give greater legal status to Mr Porter's false notion of inclusion. The principle that the evidence based best interests of the child should be a dominant consideration in setting school policy will now be challenged by Mr Porter's inclusion illusion.  More and more NB students will be forced from NB schools into home based learning.