Posts Tagged "safety"

Autism in British Columbia: Crisis in Process

Posted by on May 7, 2014 | 4 comments

Autism in British Columbia: Crisis in Process

My son Jack was born in the United States and raised in Los Angeles until the age of four and a half. Just before he turned two, he entered the California Early Start program for children with a risk of developmental delay or disability. We called for an appointment in August of 2o06, and by the end of September of the same year, he was enrolled in a variety of interventions and therapies.

At age three, he was formally assessed and diagnosed with autism by both the Lanterman Regional Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). He was transferred to autism-specific supports, where he remained until we moved.

Jack, 20 months

Jack, 20 months

From the time Jack was twenty-two months until he was four and a half, Jack received the following interventions and therapies:

AGE TWO

AGE THREE to FOUR

Provided by LAUSD:

Provided by Lanterman Regional Centre:

  • One hour a week of clinic-based Occupational Therapy
  • Twelve hours a week of home-based Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
  • Respite Care
  • Parent training workshops

We also supplemented his therapies at home, with strategies learned from his providers.

Several of the supports at school and at home were coordinated through the same non-profit organization, so there was continuity in both areas. We felt very confident that our son was receiving every support he needed, and that should he need more, the options were available to us.

We were given choices of providers and schedules, and the ability to change supports and therapies as we saw fit, but we were guided through the process by a social worker at Lanterman (Early Start), and then a caseworker at Lanterman, a support worker at LAUSD, and a coordinator at the non-profit who provided our BII and ABA aides.

It is important to note a couple of things. First, we never saw a bill. Not once. My husband and I signed authorization forms, reports, and time cards, but we were never financially responsible for anything.

Secondly, we were given suggestions and options as to what Jack needed, according to several observations and reports. We were able to give our input, but we were not responsible for creating his treatment plans. We never felt like the burden of figuring out what he required was on us.

Finally, we never saw a pediatrician or medical doctor (other than the diagnosing psychiatrists) for Jack’s autism. In fact, it came as a bit of a surprise to his pediatricians when we told them about his diagnosis. Jack has never had any of the health issues commonly associated with autism, and as it is not required in California, we had no reason to include his doctors in the diagnosing process.

When our family moved to Canada, Jack was in the process of transitioning from preschool to Kindergarten. In Los Angeles, he would have had full-time BII support, and continued with both speech therapy and home-based ABA (he had graduated from clinic-based occupational therapy) for as long as necessary.

I cannot speak to how his support would have waxed or waned over the school years, but I have only good things to say about our experiences up to that point.

I can, however, tell you what happens here in British Columbia.

Once we were settled, we were required to get Jack a new autism diagnosis from a Canadian doctor in order to qualify for provincial autism funding. Government funding is Canada’s answer to autism support, similar to the Regional Center system in California.

First, we had to see a pediatrician, and convince him Jack needed a referral for diagnosis. I was honestly shocked when he balked at giving it to us, even though Jack had already been formally diagnosed in the United States. Twice. The doctor wanted to rule out ADHD (which, it turns out, Jack does have), and Fragile X Syndrome (which he does not), before he would even consider referral. I pushed, though, and he relented.

Next came The Wait. We were told the wait time for assessment would be almost two years, and indeed it was fourteen months before he was seen.

Fourteen months is forever in the life of an autistic child and their family.

It can also be the difference between full- and no-support.

Children assessed with a spectrum disorder in BC  under the age of six receive $22,000 a year of funding to pay for their various supports. The family is responsible for deciding which therapies and interventions are necessary, and all of the hows and whens and whos of making them happen. I know how overwhelmed we were in Los Angeles, and we had several agencies overseeing and coordinating everything for us.

Many families in BC are lost and confused as to what is necessary and when, and who to trust to give them good advice. They are expected to become autism experts overnight, and to know what their child needs at any given time.

Once a child on the spectrum reaches age six, the yearly funding drops to a mere $6,000. To cover every single thing the child or young adult needs.

$6,000 doesn’t go very far, in case you’re wondering.

Now consider the child who has been waitlisted until they are six or seven, eight, or older. Those children don’t get retroactive funding; they’re given the same $6,000 every other child over six gets.

$6,000 to sink or swim.

My husband and I often wonder where Jack would be in his development if he hadn’t had such intensive interventions and instead had to wait years to be seen. The difference between the two months it took in Los Angeles and the fourteen months it took in British Columbia is monumental.

It’s a lifetime.

In the first fourteen months of Jack’s therapies, he learned to use his upper body. He learned how to play.

He learned how to talk.

I cannot stress enough how important the first year of Jack’s interventions was in shaping the person he is today. That time was invaluable to him, and to us.

I have met many families of autistic individuals here in BC and have heard a lot of stories. Some wonderful, many concerning. Some downright terrible.

In the Lower Mainland, where we live, there is only one team that assesses and diagnoses autism. One team for a large and rapidly growing population – the fastest growing region in Canada.

Wait times to be seen are so outrageous, families who are financially able resort to paying for their own assessments out of pocket. Even those clinics now have tremendous wait times.

Yes, there are legitimate circumstances where a child may be older before he or she is diagnosed, but for families seeking help for younger children, the situation here can be bleak.

I cannot imagine where Jack would be today without the solid start he got at a very young age.

I cannot imagine the kind of support he would have gotten if we had to decide his plan of action alone, without professional guidance.

I cannot imagine the outcome if we had had serious budget restraints, or had to turn down therapies because we simply could not afford them.

Jack, 8 years old

Jack, 8 years old

Autistic children in Alberta get up to $60,000 a year for supports through age 18. Why should children in British Columbia not get the same?

Why do children over the age of six get so much less than younger children? Is autism less severe over the age of six?

Why are families left to fend for themselves in a province so well known for caring for its citizens?

It breaks my heart to see even one child go without the therapy and intervention he or she desperately needs. I don’t understand how a province can willingly stifle the potential of certain individuals because of their age or where they live.

It’s just not right.

It’s not Canadian.

It needs to change.

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A Tragedy in BC – Failing The Caregivers

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 | 9 comments

A Tragedy in BC – Failing The Caregivers

Autism Awareness (ought to be Acceptance) Month is winding down, and unlike April, it will not go out like a lamb. The lion of autism injustice is still roaring, louder than ever.

While people are walking and gathering and fundraising and celebrating the wonders and gifts of autism (which I wholeheartedly support), the dark underbelly is growing. It’s time for us to face it.

Death has become altogether too common in the autism community. Every week or so there’s another story about an individual who has bolted or wandered and not made it home. And every month or so, an autistic individual is harmed or murdered by a caregiver.

The tragedies are too numerous to count, and happening much too often. They are also hitting closer to home – both in proximity and emotion.

Our children are in danger.

Issy Stapleton. Alex Spourdalakis. And now, Robert Robinson.

Last week, British Columbia resident Angie Robinson murdered her 16-year-old autistic son, then took her own life.

It’s easy to automatically blame Angie. How could a mother possibly take the life of her own child? What kind of parent does that?

A desperate parent. A parent who has reached the end of their resources, both physically and mentally. A parent who believes they have absolutely no other answer.

Nobody thinks they could ever get to the point where suicide and murder are a viable option. We all assume if things get dark enough, someone will appear with a light.

No parent, even a parent of a profoundly disabled or autistic child, wants death (I’m assuming the best, of course). Even at the very end of the rope, we are still hanging on, holding out for a glimpse of hope.

But occasionally, the darkness consumes everything, and no light can get through. There is no hope. Or, at least, that’s what a desperate parent believes.

Yes, the violent acts visited on children by their own parents and caregivers is atrocious and unimaginable. No child should ever fear for his or her life in their own home. I am not suggesting that what Kelly or Angie or Alex’s grandmother did are acceptable in any way.

But I do understand them. And I can understand how things could get so desperate for them that they felt they only had one solution.

It all comes down to support. The proverbial village. The village that supports the child needs to support the caregivers and parents, too, and therein lies the rub.

Autism supports vary from country to country, province to provice. There is no standard of practice or care even within a the US or Canada. Children and individuals with autism often need intense, one on one care, either in the home or a residential facility. Not every family is equipped to handle these situations, yet there is often little in the way of respite and support for them.

As far as I can tell, support for caregivers is pretty much nonexistent. If a family member requires placement or full-time care and none is available, what is the caregiver to do? Between a lack of professional support and the overwhelming costs of respite and residential care, it should really be no surprise that parents are losing hope.

There are two victims in these crimes. Two lives lost. Two stories that didn’t have to end this way.

When a desperate parent decides to kill their child and themselves as a way out, the entire autism community has failed.

We have failed the child by not giving them everything they need to live a happy life to best of their ability.

We have also failed the caregiver by not recognizing that a healthy caregiver is essential to a healthy, happy autistic individual.

We cannot expect autistics and their families to survive and thrive if they are constantly at war just to get support.

Any one of us could reach the limit. Or anyone we’ve met. Nobody knows just how much someone can take, and what will be their breaking point. We need wholesale change in the way we support autistic individuals and their caregivers. The reality is if the caregiver is too stressed and is getting no help or relief, the whole family is in potential danger. These horrible stories will continue until something big changes.

Caregivers need to be heard and helped when they reach out. By the time a parent reaches the point of murder and suicide, it’s too late. Families need care and support from the very beginning, not just when things get rough.

Until then, keep your ears and shoulders available for your friends, in real life and on the internet (which is oftentimes who need it the most). Be a friend, be aware of what’s happening. Also, don’t hide your situation from the world. Open up to anyone you think will take you seriously.

And let your local government know how you feel about caregiver support and the lack thereof. Be loud, and be heard.

If the system can’t/won’t help us, we have to help ourselves.

lost boy

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Autistic Wandering is No Joke

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Autistic Wandering is No Joke

Every year, almost half of all children with autism attempt to escape, or elope, from a safe environment. Too many of them never make it home.

Today, April 1, 2014, we pause to remember those we have lost to wandering.

From the Facebook event description:
“This event is a virtual candlelight vigil to remember and respect the lives of autistic children who have died after an elopement.

The Kennedy Krieger Institute reported in a 2011 study that up to 48% of all children with autism will engage in wandering behavior or “elopement,” which is defined as the tendency to leave a non life threatening space and enter into a potentially dangerous one, and is a rate 4 times higher than their neurotypical siblings.

The Krieger Institute also reported that “35% of families with children who elope report their children are “never” or “rarely” able to communicate their name, address, or phone number by any means.”

In 2012, the National Autism Association reported that “accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with an ASD ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering/elopement.”

This vigil is being organized to spread awareness of the very real issue of wandering behavior in autistic children and the unspeakable tragedies that can, and have occurred as a result.

Please join us in respectful remembrance of the children who have died.

For additional resources check the website: http://www.awaare.org/

Or find them on facebook: NAA Autism & Safety: Wandering Prevention

This is by no means a comprehensive list of every child and individual lost to wandering, but it is entirely too long already. Please, do your part to help make sure we don’t have to add more names next year.

Wandering Graphic

Kaitlin Bacile
Au-Juna Banks-Taylor, age 9
Ryan Barrett
Christian Baucom, age 6
Jason Baucom
Adam Benhamama
Owen Black, age 7
Aiden Bower, age 4
Ashley Brock
Noah Burke
Carolyne Burns
Dena Burns, age 6
John Burton Jr., age 7
Colum Canning
Kaymania Catt, age 5
Alex Christopher, 6/3/05
Zachary Clark
Jeremiah Conn, age 6
Holden Cottingham, 2013
Taariq Cross, age 7
Christian Dejons
James Delorey
David DeSantiago, age 11
Devonte Dye, age 5
Tatiana Eiland-Clinton, age 3
Devine Farrier
Justin Gore, Jr.
Darryl Gosein
Anthony Guerra, age 9
Tristian Guffey
Liam Hamilton, age 7
Elizabeth Hathaway, age 10
Savannah Hauser
Benjy Heil
Jack Hensley
Emily Hope
Drew Howell, age 2
Tristin Jeras, 7/26/12
Aiden Johnson
Marquail Johnson, age 8
Jackson Kastner, age 4
Kesia Kearse
Nathan Kinderdine
Michael Kingsbury, age 7
Adlai Kugblenu
Anthony Kuznia, age 11
Bernard Latimore
Aiden Lawson, age 3
Kieran le Couteur
Erik Lippmann
Alexie Loper, age 4
Mikaela Lynch, 5/15/13
Charlie Manley, age 16
Savannah Martin, 2/20/11
Donivan Martin, age 16
Savannah Martin, age 7
Jason McGuire
Mason Medlam
Logan Mitcheltree
Christopher Morrison, age 5
Blake Murrell, age 4
Alyvia Navarro, age 3
Avonte Oquendo, age 14
Dominic Overton
Ariana Pivacheck, age 9
Evan Reed, 2012
Hannah Ross, age 7
Blake Ryan, 4/19/11, age 4
Christina Sankey, age 29
Luke Selwyn
Nicholas Shaffer, age 12
Kaleb Shavers, age 6
Kadeem Shillingford, age 15
Jonah Smith
Julian Stacey, New Zealand
Travis Stratton, 3/1/14, age 4
Kaliya Sullivan
Sean Taglione, 1/29/12, age 12
Desmond Thomas
Kristina Vlassenko, age 10
Christopher Wakeman, age 23
Amarie Walker, age 4
Skylar Wayne
Freddie Williams, age 13
Davin Williams, age 15
NNR, age 5, Bradenton, FL
NNR, age 11, Stafford, VA
NNR, age 12, Houston, TX

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Extreme Air Park – Hostility, Greed, and Autism

Posted by on Feb 25, 2014 | 4 comments

Extreme Air Park – Hostility, Greed, and Autism

We in the autism community are, sadly, used to hearing about maligned special needs parents and children. It’s become an all-too-common topic in the news and blogs lately. While most of us know or are familiar with some affected persons, it’s rare (at least for me) to have a situation happen right in your own backyard.

Or down the street, in my case.

We live in Langley, British Columbia, just South of Vancouver. From what I’ve experienced in the almost four years we’ve lived here, it’s a really nice community. The people are kind, the schools are good, and children are welcomed almost everywhere. We have parks and playgrounds and activities for families on almost every corner. It’s not Utopia, but it’s a great place to raise a family.

As a child with autism, Jack is welcome with all other children. He has not been excluded from anything he has wanted to do, to our knowledge. He is gaining independence, but he does need accompaniment of his SEA for school activities, and a parent or caregiver for much of everything else.

Kelly Moonie and her son Kyle live in our community. Kyle, like Jack, has autism. I don’t know the Moonie family personally, but I hope their experiences here in Langley have been similar to ours. Most of them, that is.

Recently, Kelly took her son to the Extreme Air Park location here in Langley, an indoor gym of sorts featuring wall-to-wall (and up the wall) trampolines. We’ve been there ourselves, and can attest that it’s a lot of fun. For everyone. We even have a t-shirt.

Kyle was accompanied to EAP with his caregiver, who is charged with assisting him and ensuring his safety. Kellie was told she needed to pay the full price for the caregiver to enter.

Businesses that cater to children often admit a caregiver for free, or at least at a reduced price. Here in Canada, we have a program called Access 2 Entertainment, that addresses the issue directly.

From their website:

Launched in December of 2004, the Access 2 Entertainment program seeks to offer more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in recreational activities with an attendant, without added financial burden. It is also designed to raise awareness and help businesses provide quality customer service to customers with disabilities.

It is vitally important that special needs children enjoy as much of a “normal” life as possible, and allowing caregivers to accompany them is a major part of that.

After their visit, Kellie sent an email to EAP, explaining this issue, and suggesting they change their policies. She received an email in return, assuring her there would be no such change.

Kellie answered the email, pressing them further on the issue.

The response she got was much less polite, and much more hostile.

From the CBC article telling their story:

“Our system is computerized. I am not lying to you. We know how many people are on the floor at any given time. But what would you know. C U next Tuesday,” replied (Michael Marti, on behalf of ) Extreme Air Park.

Yes, you read that right. C U next Tuesday.

With apologies for the vulgarity, C-U-N-T.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. Calling your customers names is never good business, but in the case of a special needs parent trying to enlighten you on a very important issue?

Firestorm.

Extreme Air Park is a bouncing wonderland, almost made for autistic kids. Maybe that’s the problem. They don’t want autistics. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s definitely the message they’re sending. By inhibiting equal access, the Extreme Air Parks are making it very clear that they don’t care for special needs individuals in their establishments. And if those persons wish to patronize the place anyway, they’ll pay for the privilege.

Charging a caregiver full price when they are only there to facilitate the individual who needs them – similar to a seeing-eye dog, if you will – is just plain greedy.

Special needs parents and autistics have enough struggles and obstacles in life already without ignorant businesses piling on.

Even if you do not have a special needs child, the way the company handled this is outrageous and beyond the pale. True, it may have simply been an unprofessional employee taking matters into their own hands, but when you’re speaking for an entire company, you should know better. I have no doubt that any parent attempting to communicate with EAP would have met with similar hostility and derision.

I could go on and on and rant and rave, but I won’t.

Instead, I’ll let you do it. Please.

Please take a moment to tell Extreme Air Parks how you feel about their policies, and the way they treated Kelly Moonie.

Below are the contact numbers for all of the Extreme Air Parks in Canada:

Richmond 604-244-5867
Langley 604-888-8616
Calgary 403-265-2733
Edmonton 780-479-7790

They are also on Twitter: @Extreme_AirPark

It would appear they’ve deactivated their Facebook account, but you can send them an email directly on their website here.

On behalf of Kelly and Kyle, Jack, the children of Langley, and special needs families everywhere, I urge you to take a stand.

I am.

But first, I’m going to go throw away that t-shirt.

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Why Didn’t Mikaela Lynch Get an Amber Alert?

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 | 0 comments

Why Didn’t Mikaela Lynch Get an Amber Alert?

I also blog over at redOrbit.com, and this was my other post as part of “An Outpouring of Love for The Mikaela Lynch Family.” To read more entries from other writers, please visit this site. You can see the original post here. Sadly, several more autistic children have drowned since I wrote this article not two weeks ago.

******************************************************************************************

There is a question many are asking in the wake of Mikaela Lynch‘s disappearance in Clearwater, CA last week. Actually, there are a lot of questions being asked by a lot of people, but there is one that I, and many in the autism community, would really like an answer to.

Why was there no Amber Alert for this missing nine-year-old girl?

It’s important to understand that not all missing children get an Amber Alert issued for them. In order to “qualify,” missing children must fit certain criteria. Primarily, the family must be able to prove the child was abducted, and preferably give a description of the abductor and/or their vehicle.

A missing autistic child does not fit the criteria for an Amber Alert, yet the dangers are just as real and just as imminent as for one who has been abducted.

Over half of all autistic children are “runners”: children who, given the chance or the right circumstances, will simply go. Take off. Run. Sometimes there is a destination, oftentimes there is not. My child runs when he doesn’t want to leave somewhere or when he’s off in “his world,” as we call it. He gives us very few clues as to where and when it might happen, so we are always wary. It doesn’t happen very often with him, but many autistic children are continuous flight risks, meaning their families are on high alert at all times, day and night. Their houses are fortresses of locks and gates and barriers and alarms.

Another curious thing about autistic children? They’re fast. Faster than you’d ever think, and highly trained in the arts of evasion. If an autistic child wants to run and you’re not ready for it, there’s not a whole lot you can do other than hope you can run faster. Or hope there’s someone on the other end who can run interference. A lot depends on hope.

Mikaela was nonverbal. She could not speak, nor really understand the world around her past the cognizance level of a very young toddler. Mikaela was also not toilet trained. That’s not unusual for children on certain parts of the autism spectrum, nor is it a surprise to anyone who has an autistic family member or knowledge of autism. Autism parents talk about speech competence and toilet habits in the same breath. It’s just another part of life. And no, it doesn’t matter if she was or was not able to use the toilet herself, but it speaks to her vulnerability. It’s not newsworthy in any kind of sensational way.

Autistic children are barraged with sensory input, and are equally drawn to things that stand out to them. Mikaela, like many children, loved water. Given the chance, she went to the water. Mikaela had sensory issues with her clothing – typical among individuals on the spectrum – and liked to shed it when she was hot. Within minutes of leaving her home, she was naked. A naked nine-year-old girl, running down the street, headed for water.

I cannot imagine putting a child in a more vulnerable situation.

Knowing these things about Mikaela, it becomes a little easier to see why she may have taken off in such a hurried manner. How often do parents find themselves chasing toddlers who have run off after a butterfly or a car or a cloud? Who strip naked at the drop of a hat? Small children are amazed with the world, and they want to embrace it. Individuals with autism experience the world much in the same way. To them, everything is bigger and louder and brighter and more extreme (this is an excellent video that attempts to replicate how an autistic person experiences their environment).

Autistic children with a high-risk of eloping (running) can be fitted with a tracking anklet or GPS tracking device in their school bag (there are bracelets and watches, too, but those can be torn off by an extremely sensitive individual). There is an endless array of identification items for autistic children, everything from temporary tattoos to shoe ID tags. We’ve even resorted to writing our phone number on Jack’s upper arm where he can’t rub it off.

The majority of us in the autism community don’t need to ask what security measures Mikaela’s parents had in place to keep her  contained and out of harm’s way. We can safely assume, knowing her abilities and cognizance level, that they had multiple precautions in place: locks, gates, constant supervision, etc. As will happen in the best of circumstances, life intervened. An unexpected chain of events led to Makaela being unsupervised for a moment. A moment she seized. A moment her family will never forget.

There is no one to blame for Mikaela taking her chance to run, nobody to fault. There is simply no way to keep a nine-year-old child under total surveillance without locking them away in a room. Things happen, life happens, tragedy happens.

It’s what happens next that’s important. Mikaela’s family was just minutes behind her, and called the police quickly. Hundreds of law enforcement and concerned citizens joined in the search. But because Mikaela was not abducted, there was no Amber Alert.

Perhaps they make a good point in narrowing the field of children to abductees, so that people don’t get desensitized to the alerts. The good they do, though, cann0t be denied. Amber Alerts go out over the radio, the television, Twitter feeds, text messages, email, up on SigAlert signs on highways, and more. Information about the missing child is spread far and wide within a very short span of time, and it has been proven to work, time and again.

Autistic children deserve that same attention. Mikaela was, sadly, not the first autistic child lost to drowning this year. Or even this month. She is, in fact, one of three children who have drowned in the last week alone.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for autistic children under the age of 14, and not by a small margin, either. 91%.

I can’t help but think that if an Amber Alert had been issued for Mikaela, perhaps someone may have taken a closer look at the child in the street. Or joined in the search. Or come forward with information they didn’t realize was relevant.

We can’t beat ourselves up for what might have been, but we can change the future for autistic children. If we can’t give them an Amber Alert, perhaps we need a new alert. One specifically for vulnerable autistic individuals. The family of Amber Hagerman, another nine-year-old who went missing, paved the way for the Amber Alert. As a result, countless children are alive today. Our children deserve the same attention, the same urgency, the same rapid dissemination of information.

We need an Autism Alert, and we need it now. We can’t spare any more of our very special babies.

 

To learn more about what you can do to help prevent wandering incidents and deaths within the autism community, please visit The AWAARE Collaboration.

 

This post is part of “An Outpouring of Love for The Mikaela Lynch Family.” To read other entries, please visit this site.

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