Autism service cuts cruel

The Daily Courier (Kelowna)

Sept. 16 marked a sad anniversary for children with special needs in this province.

Last year on this date, B.C.'s Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak announced funding cuts of more than $3 million for autism services for children under age six.

As a result of this decision, Victoria's Queen Alexandra Centre for Child Health laid off 40 highly trained behavioural interventionists and closed its autism behaviour intervention program.

This was a program that made breakthroughs with autistic children, releasing kids from a lifelong sentence of isolation and costly supported living.

Intensive behavioural interventionists collaborated with the centre's occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech language pathologists and other staff to make a successful, long-term experience for autistic children.

The program cost about $70,000 for three or four years of intensive treatment. That investment may seem steep, but compare this to the alternative: studies estimate that if left untreated, caring for autistic individuals over the course of their lives costs about $2 million per person.

Last year, Polak claimed autistic children would still receive adequate services. However, parents say the program closure has been devastating.

Families are reporting almost universal regression in the children who were cut from the program.

If Health Minister Kevin Falcon were really serious about saving money in the health-care system, he'd take a look at the fiscal impact of this and other short-sighted cuts announced all over the province.

Putting aside the human impact of giving children and their families a shot at life lived to its full potential, funding early autism intervention programs saves money.

Why is the government ignoring that?

Reid Johnson, president,

Health Sciences Association of B.C.

© 2010 The Okanagan Valley Newspaper Group. All rights reserved.