Autistic testing under fire - Ottawa Sun Newspaper

Autistic kids are falling through the cracks because programs designed to help them aren't properly assessing their progress, Ottawa parents claim.


At issue is whether CHEO is following provincial guidelines when making the final assessment of autistic children's development in its Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) program.

Both Kristen Foster and David Hurd have five-year-old boys with autism who will be discharged from the program at the end of the month.

Both parents recorded their meetings with the IBI program director and discovered a possible divide between the province and local service providers.

"The government can't define what a clinical assessment means," Dr. Lise Bisnaire told both parents in separate meetings.

After more research, Hurd found provincial experts concerned about staffing for discharge assessments, which are half clinical, half psychological.

"There was often no psychological data at discharge due to shortage of manpower," wrote psychologist Dr. Louise Larose in an April 2010 request for proposal sent to the children and youth services ministry.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has also argued the province wants to discharge more children because of the growing wait lists. Horwath's office has said the province's $25-million investment into autism services will only make the lists longer.

Both parents were told their children are being discharged because they haven't improved quickly enough, but now each is questioning the testing.

Foster said her son Khalil, who is severely autistic and intellectually disabled, has made a "complete 360" through the program.

"They have set unattainable goals ... I have knots in my stomach. I don't know what to do," she said, adding she's worried about the high treatment costs that may force her to put Khalil in a group home.

"IBI is a one-of-a-kind opportunity and we will never have it again."

But CHEO defended its staffing and discharge procedures.

"We help about 140 kids a year (in IBI), so, yes, we do have the manpower to properly run that program," said Ann Fuller, CHEO's director of communications.

"Discharge decisions are a process, not a single event ... they are not made lightly."

Children in IBI programs are deemed ready to leave when they plateau, meaning the child is also out if he or she has gone beyond what the program can provide.

After Hurd's meeting, he was granted a full assessment for his son Michael, which will give him an idea of his son's progress. Foster will not have an assessment.

jamie.long@sunmedia.ca

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