News release

Province Improving Support for People with Autism

NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece from Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson in recognition of October as Autism Awareness Month.

Earlier this month, I heard a compelling story of a Nova Scotia family with an autistic child.

Like many parents of autistic children, Nancy and her husband began seeing signs early on that something wasn't right with their daughter. At first, they though it might be developmental delays in speech. But because all children develop differently, they tried not to worry. By the time their daughter turned 2, Nancy and her husband knew something was wrong. She had become very regimented, stuck in routines, and needed a lot of explanation about simple things. Their physician, assessed and diagnosed her as having autism.

But support was there when they needed it.

In April, their daughter was enrolled in the provincial the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) program for young children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Offered through district health authorities, EIBI helps develop children's communication, play and other functional skills. The program is for preschool children and involves the entire family to ensure the best results.

Through programs like EIBI, more Nova Scotian children living with autism have access to the support and services they need. As Minister of Health and Wellness, I am committed to continue d investments in treating autism. With October being Autism Awareness Month, it's a fitting time to examine the progress we've made.

In 2011, the province announced the Autism Spectrum Disorder Action Plan, which included $4 million in new investments over two years to fully fund the intervention program. Earlier this summer, government released its one-year progress report on the plan, and affirmed its investment of $2 million this year for the EIBI program.

This ensures all eligible children with autism can receive EIBI treatment by 2013, a marked improvement over previous programs. For example, the program put in place five years ago only helped half of the children who needed it.

Since releasing our action plan, we've made other improvements, including hiring a provincial autism consultant with the Department of Education, making $1.3 million in new funding available through the Department of Community Services for Independent Living Support and Alternative Family Support programs, and delivering online training about autism spectrum disorder for law enforcement officials through the Department of Justice.

I am happy to say that just five months after beginning the EIBI program, Nancy has seen an improvement in her daughter's development. The girl went from using gestures to communicate, to speaking complete sentences like, "Mommy, I'd like to have a snack."

Nancy said she can't imagine where her daughter would be developmentally without EIBI. Because of programs like this, Nancy's daughter will have the skills she needs to take her through school and beyond.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder Action Plan progress report is available at www.ednet.ns.ca .

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Patricia Jreige
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