Friday, April 2, 2010

Loss of autism program is devastating

[Catherine: thank you for writing this personal and powerful statement. Lana.]

Parents helpless as children regress, thanks to government's decision

April 2 2010
On the last day of Queen Alexandra's early intervention program for preschool-aged children with autism, a little boy gave me a spontaneous hug. He was about four years old, the same age as my son, and equally non-verbal. I'd noticed him before. He's a very cute child. I had never seen him make eye contact or touch anyone. I certainly hadn't imagined he'd ever noticed me. Yet here he was, squeezing my knees with an abandon that moved me to tears. He may not have been able to talk to me, but I felt as though I were hearing the quiet voice of the divine.

What is happening to these small, fragile voices now that Queen Alexandra's program closed its doors due to the decisions of Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak?

This is what's happening: Parents are watching helplessly as their children, who had just begun to speak (at age five), gradually slip back into grunting. Parents are gritting their teeth as children who had finally mastered toilet training are falling back into incontinence.
They're having to take time off work or quit altogether because their children have been asked to leave preschool due to aggressive anti-social behaviour -- behaviour that had been improving before Queen Alexandra's program closure.

Families are suffering because they cannot afford to pay private agencies for the treatment their children need. There is no longer a publicly funded option. Marriages are faltering as the financial and emotional stress grinds them relentlessly downward, day after discouraging day.

The siblings of these children are constantly starved for their parents' attention. Spouses have no time for each other. Daily life is so exhausting and overwhelming that even the laundry backlog can make them sit down and cry.
Any spare moment is often spent saying a silent prayer that somehow their children will find a way to cope with kindergarten in September. Never mind blossoming, thriving, making new friends and being happy. Just let them survive. Please God keep the bullies away.

Minister Polak and her cabinet colleagues know that these families are permanently pushed to the limit. They are fully aware that parents have precious little time to spare for political wrangling. They rely on this, waiting them out, wearing them down and hoping they'll get so tired they'll just go away.

We're still here.

Queen Alexandra and other centres around B.C. may have lost their early intensive autism treatment programs, but the fight is not over. We, the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends will continue to advocate for children with autism, those yet to be diagnosed and those still unborn.

Our commitment will outlast any cabinet stint or election cycle. Minister Polak may eventually wonder if dealing such a damaging blow to children and families was really worth saving a few dollars.

The adorable little boy who was so full of affection just a couple of months ago recently came to a reunion playdate at a park. He was unable to get out of the wagon his mom had brought him in, or to stop crying. He couldn't play with any of his former school friends. He simply couldn't cope with the social situation. It was heartbreaking.

Minister Polak is failing children in this province, supposedly in the name of deficit reduction. Where was she when government announced a new $145-million program to help homeowners outside Victoria and the Lower Mainland? Desperate parents this minister has abandoned will now be subsidizing owners of $2-million homes in Whistler. Compare this to her argument of "fairness" when she axed our children's treatment.

Responsible government MLAs, and they do exist, need to speak up quickly to help this government regain its moral compass and ability to govern.

Is your MLA speaking up? Phone or e-mail today and ask.
[Tell the Premier to fund EIBI now:]

Catherine Clark-Turnquist is a Victoria mother of two boys, one of whom had been in the early intensive behavioural intervention program.