~ 5 minute read
What was the problem identified in 2018?
In 2018, in Autism Ontario’s provincewide survey of 1,514 caregivers and 87 autistic adults, Education support was identified as the highest area of need. Nevertheless, 69% of caregivers of elementary school and 77.8% of high school aged children agreed with the statement “We feel listened to by our child’s school.”
Why is it still relevant?
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 changed the face of education in Ontario. Classes were shuttered and students sent home to attend school remotely. In the case of parents and caregivers of children with autism, the schedules on which they depended were upended as they struggled with the reality of remote schooling during the lockdown. The support needs of children on the spectrum continued, and in many cases grew. Children who once had special assistance and education programs at school were now suddenly learning from home with their parents and caregivers, who were now beginning to struggle with their own mental health while caring for their children with no respite.
Findings of our August 2020 province-wide survey of over 2,400 parents and caregivers of school-aged children with autism confirmed the situation had changed dramatically from the previous survey. On average, 45% of parents and caregivers were unsatisfied with the educational experience during the lockdown.
Most stressful to caregivers was the extra work caring for their child at home (46%), and lost social, developmental, and academic opportunities (45%). Additionally, when asked about the impact of the spring school closure on their child’s physical or mental wellbeing, 48% of caregivers described losses to their child’s social functioning, while 30% described setbacks to development, and 21% reported child mental health challenges.
As families and children prepared for the new school year in September and the uncertainties that came with it, parents and caregivers expressed their continued misgivings. Common concerns included their child’s ability to adhere to COVID-19 safety rules (46%), and their child managing the transition to school including mental health and social situations (28%). According to their caregivers and parents, 32% of children reported anxiety regarding returning to school, either due to fears of contracting the coronavirus or having to wear a form of face covering such as a mask.
In addition, 29% of parents and caregivers surveyed said there should be flexibility in education-based meetings (e.g. Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) or Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings) should be offered face-to-face in the fall.
What is Autism Ontario doing about it?
Based on feedback in the survey, Autism Ontario created and circulated a COVID-19 Back to School Transition Meeting Checklist in both English and French just before the start of the school season to make it widely available both to caregivers and educators. We also published the results of the survey in both English and French in a special Summer issue of our quarterly magazine, Autism Matters.
We continue to engage with the relevant Ministries and decision-makers. The day after we released the survey results, we met with representatives from the Ministry of Education to share our findings and provide recommendations. This follows Autism Ontario’s sharing of the results of its 2018 Education Survey with the Ministry.
We are also continuing to make sure our voice is heard through constructively engaging with the media to publicize the report and its findings.
Long-term, Autism Ontario is working to ensure that the education recommendations, made by the October 2019 Ontario Autism Program Advisory panel, which includes the dedication of space in schools for all therapies such as Applied Behaviour Analysis, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Language Pathology, and the expansion of the number of mental health workers and Educational Assistants to support autistic students in schools, are adopted.
What can we all (you) do about it?
The best way to create positive change is to make your voice heard.
The first and easiest way is to respond to Autism Ontario surveys. Although your participation of our surveys remains anonymous, your voice, along with others can influence decision-makers.
Another important way of getting involved by being in contact with or becoming your local SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) representative through Autism Ontario. Under the provincial Education Act, every school board in Ontario is mandated to have a SEAC, with its members drawn from volunteer representatives from local groups like Autism Ontario. Each Autism Ontario chapter has a SEAC representative that liaises between the English and French public and catholic school systems. Chapter SEAC representatives are appointed for three-year terms by your chapter’s leadership council and the approval of your local school board.
It’s also important to know about your child’s IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee) and IEP (Individual Education Plan) so you can effectively advocate with your child’s teacher. Autism Ontario maintains a list of resources through its School Advocacy Toolkit and offers parents and educators its COVID-19 Back to School Transition meeting checklist in both English and French.
Contacting your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to discuss your child’s education is one of the most important things you can do to promote positive change. All MPPs maintain offices in both the provincial legislature and in their ridings and make time available to meet with their constituents. Handy tips are included in Autism Ontario’s Political Advocacy Toolkit, which is a non partisan resource.
Government of Ontario Policy Documents Specific to Education or Special Education:
Government of Ontario Documents Specific to Autism:
Government Education Resources Specific to Education or Special Education:
Autism Ontario Education Advocacy Resources:
Our List of Positive Advocacy Resources that includes SEAC, School and political advocacy toolkits, as well as access to informative webinars on a variety of topics.
Raise the Flag Autism Awareness Campaign for Schools to assist in promoting autism awareness every year.
Learning Resources filled with easy to understand resources to help guide parents are caregivers through the education advocacy process
Other Relevant Groups/Agencies:
Where do our Top 5 Priorities come from?
In May 2018, Autism Ontario conducted a survey of 1,514 caregivers and of 87 autistic adults. In order to more accurately pinpoint what the autism community itself believed to be the most pressing and important areas for action and study, we conducted a secondary survey so the community could rank the results in order of perceived importance.
The next Top 5 Priority blog post, Long Waitlists, will be published on Monday, November 23rd, 2020.