A Halifax woman whose son is autistic says an early intervention program shouldn’t be limited to one year. Minda Duplessis-Talbot credits the program for a dramatic improvement in her son’s communications skills. When he entered the early intensive behaviourial intervention program at the IWK Health Centre, she said he had no conversational skills and little interaction with the world.
Now the five-year-old can address her as Mommy and ask to go out to a restaurant, she said.
“I have seen extensive improvement — miraculous success,” Duplessis-Talbot, 44, said in an interview Thursday.
Up until last year, the intensive program introduced in 2004 was available to only half the province’s autistic children through a lottery system.
In April 2011, the NDP government increased the funding to $8 million a year from $4 million, which allowed more staff, such as psychologists and speech pathologists, to be hired.
As a result of the funding boost, every pre-school-aged child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder can get treatment for a year. There are now 115 children in the program at nine sites throughout the province, including the IWK.
The program focuses on the child’s development of communication and social skills. The general strategies are family-friendly and easily learned by parents and other caregivers, while the children’s programs are individually tailored to meet their needs, according to information on the IWK’s website.
Nobody from the program was available for an interview Thursday.
The province can’t afford to expand the program beyond the one-year time period per individual, Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson said in an interview Thursday.
“No question, it comes down to the availability of resources,” the minister said.
“With the $4-million investment, we’re able to offer that to all the children. If we were to offer it for a longer period of time than a year, then that would limit our ability to allow new children to come into the program.”
Wilson said followup consultation is provided for the children for problem-solving and other issues when they enter school. Sessions are also provided for parents.
But Duplessis-Talbot, whose son has completed the program, said the followup is limited and general in nature.
She plans to move to Alberta, which has the most extensive autism treatment program in Canada, even though she’s in a desperate financial situation after her husband died last year. She has two other young children, one of whom also has physical and developmental problems.
“It’s the difference between independence and dependence,” she said, struggling to contain her emotions.
“Not for just my kid, for every child with autism.”