Education, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Autistic Children and Therapy

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW

Imagine having a child with autism and waiting 2 1/2 years for therapy to begin. The parents of a four-year old autistic boy in British Columbia are going public.

“From his initial referral to speech to his first appointment, it was 920 days — of waiting,” said mom Christine Long.

Imagine being the mom who is not working so she can stay home to informally provide speech therapy to her son that technically the government should be providing or even the educational system. This is Canada after all, which has universal healthcare and many services like social work, speech therapy and nursing services along with basic exams and tests are provided to its citizens or permanent residents through local clinics and schools as part of our taxes. There are long public waiting lists, for the actual assessments and therapies and there are wait lists for independent, privately run services, which can be expensive. In Finn’s case, the Longs say:

“Hiring a private speech therapist to work with him daily would cost approximately $4,000 a month.”

Provincial figures show the median wait time — just for initial assessment — is 31 weeks. Then there is the wait for services to actually begin. What happens to the children in the meantime? What if both parents work and cannot stay home to provide ‘speech therapy” to their child? Wait times are even longer in other provinces, Ontario, in some regions face a delay of 4 years to get intensive therapy.

According to the Parliament of Canada, an ideal EIBI treatment, children should be in therapy for 40 hours per week, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year. Families must become an integral part of the program to ensure generalization of their child’s new skills outside of teaching sessions. In Quebec, different programs are offered in an attempt to provide more flexibility to the families. In Canada, most provinces have agreed to partially fund the treatment for pre-school children; for example, up to $20,000 per child per year in British Columbia and New Brunswick. When such a ceiling is in place, most families will opt for a less intensive program if they cannot afford the difference.

In Canada, we have a Canada Health Act which covers:

  • a “medically necessary” hospital service;
  • a “medically required” service rendered by a medical practitioner; or
  • “when the law of the province so permits,” a “similar or additional service rendered by other health care practitioners.”

Since the Act does not specify which individual medical services are provided, this decision is determined by each province with its provincial medical association. Therefore, to be wholly or partially covered by a provincial health insurance plan, EIBI would have to be included as a specific treatment in the province’s list of “similar or additional services” along with “health care practitioners” who provide such services.

As one who was trained as a social worker and works in the social services field-where is the justice in asking a parent to wait 2-4 years for speech therapy for their autistic child?

*First posted at: http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/01/15/autistic-children-and-therapy/