'I need to help other people get the help,' says 16-year-old boy at autism protest
Courtney Greenberg, CTV News Toronto
Published Tuesday, November 29, 2016 4:34PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 29, 2016 5:38PM EST
A 16-year-old boy with autism joined a group of activists and families at a protest in front of the Ministry of Education building Tuesday, saying it’s his “responsibility” to make sure students have access to better services.
Philip Lerner, a student from Thornhill, said the support he received from an educational assistant was life-changing and he is now working to make sure others can get the same type of help at Ontario schools.
“I feel really passionately about this whole thing. I got really, really good help when I was in elementary school. From grades one to eight I had an outstanding (educational assistant) and I feel kids now have a huge struggle to get that support,” Lerner told CTV News Toronto from the protest on Bay Street.
“It was basically my growth from being a young child who had no idea what he's doing in the world to being who I am right now.”
The protesters said they are fed up with the lack of proper services for children with autism are asking for more accessibility, support and tailored programs for students. They said more staff at Ontario schools needed to be trained properly to teach kids with autism and that there should be more support for those kids outside of school.
The protesters were also asking for a freeze on any future cuts to special needs programs and calling on the education ministry to use a teaching method called applied behavioural analysis (ABA).
“ABA is to kids with autism what wheelchairs are to kids with mobility impairments. For our kids, it's the way they learn. It's the way they access education. So it's a scientifically validated therapeutic approach to breaking tasks down into small pieces and teaching in the way that our kids learn,” Vice-President of the Ontario Autism Coalition Laura Kirby-McIntosh told CTV News Toronto at the rally.
The coalition called ABA the most “effective, evidence-based method” in a news release distributed earlier Tuesday. The group also stated that staff at Ontario schools do not have “necessary training to meet students’ daily needs.”
“We need to get ABA techniques into classrooms. Boards are saying that they provide this, but it’s done by itinerant teams that go from school to school,” coalition president Bruce McIntosh said while at the protest. “They visit. They consult. They leave. The staff need the training. There was a young man arrested in eastern Ontario recently after having had a meltdown at school. It’s clear that they need the behavioural support, but they’re not getting it. They’re not getting it daily.”
In a response to Tuesday’s protest, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter’s office said in an email that the province is currently investing over $2.7 billion in support of students with special needs.
More children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are receiving a post-secondary education and the amount of these students has quadrupled since 2009, the email said.
The note also pointed out that more than 30,000 teachers and educators have ABA training.
“Our government’s plan is focused on transforming children’s autism services to further give Ontarians living with ASD the supports they need to succeed in their every day lives,” the email read.
About 100 parents protested changes to autism treatments at Queen’s Park in June when the government announced they would stop intensive therapy for children aged five or older. The government later decided to boost funds instead of cutting them because of the outrage and complaints from parents. However, some are still saying there is not enough support or high quality programs for students with autism.
“I feel like it's kind of my responsibility since I already got the help, now I need to help other people get the help,” Lerner said.
Parents prepared a list of 40 recommendations to present to a representative of the education ministry at a meeting today.