Opinion: Ontario parents of special needs children need more allies
EDITORS NOTE: The following was submitted by reader, Maria Garito to InHalton.com. The views expressed are that of the reader’s.
The submission is posted in its entirety, as it was received.
The latest on the CUPE walkout can be found here.
Dear Parents of Ontario
This letter is actually for you. I thought about addressing it to the Minister Lecce but really, it's you that I need to speak to. By now, many of you will have received some sort of formal notice that you will have to make arrangements for your children on Monday- pending a CUPE strike. Some of you have taken to social media, asking what other parents are doing to secure daycare, and are looking for ideas on day programs and/or respite options. No one understands your level of anxiety right now, more than me. Here's why.
You see, I have an autistic little boy who is non-verbal and who has developmental delays. For me, the thought of 'what I am going to do with my child,' is one that is not unfamiliar. It's the reality that I, and thousands of special needs parents in this province face daily. Our options of what to do with our kids is very limited. Finding quality care is nearly impossible and given the needs of our children, we often have to leave our jobs to stay home with them to juggle the mounting list of therapies and advocacy we need to be accessible for. We are faced with the chronic shortage of community programs and social groups for our kids. It's just not that easy to find camps that have qualified staff and that won't cost us our home in order for our children to attend. Many of us do not have family or friends that have shown sincere interest in wanting to care for our children, so we just don't see that as an option either. Finding reliable and trustworthy respite workers is another challenge that many of us experience, so we end up not accessing the service because we fear our children will not be safe.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have wonderful accepting schools, with caring professionals who legitimately love our children and want to access as many supports as possible. The reality however, is that for MANY children and adults with disabilities, this isn't the case. I regret to inform you that those schools who have not accepted our children, may be one of the schools your child attends. So, for us the idea of having to manage multiple places for our children to be cared for and educated at, comes with the territory of being a special needs parent. We are forced to find therapies our kids need, so we take our children out of school to do so. Just recently, I had to do this myself. We had to decrease my son's hours of therapy, just so he could have the social-emotional connection with his peers- which we all know cannot be replicated in a therapy room. When schools don't have enough Educational Assistants or special education experts, our kids languish their days not having the supports they need. The school experience for our kids is so crucial to their development, just as it is for your children. My son has thrived at school, but it would have never happened without consistent support of his Eas, his special education team, his team of consulting experts, and his teachers- all if which have presumed my son’s competency.
Education law and the Ontario Human Rights Code both legally put the onus on schools to provide accessible and consistent accommodations for our children, so that they can thrive in inclusive environments. And yet, governments who are responsible for this outcome cut special needs funding every year, which in turn leaves our kids to be excluded. Special accommodations aren't expensive, they just aren't a priority for this government. Our community has been the target of cuts for years, and there has been little done in decades to change this. In fact, the funding formula for special needs has not changed in over 20 years. Today we see more special need kids in our schools than ever, because the inclusion movement has given our kids “a seat at their desks,” so to speak, but the funding to create their inclusion, has not been increased to support the need.
This letter is not to make you feel badly about you wanting to send your kids to school. They should be there! They should have the experiences of learning and exploring, making connections with peers, discovering their talents, and having a community to be accepted in. Our kids need that too, and they want that more than anything. But we need help doing it. This is where I ask for your help.
I implore you to make your voices heard. Call your MPP office, your media contacts, your trustees, your boards of education and let them know we just can't cut anymore. Tell them our schools need fewer kids in classes so teachers can teach curriculum and attend to different student needs. Tell them our schools need more qualified and trained educational assistants that are paid well, are given opportunities to attend parent meetings, and are part of the educational support team. Our schools need sensory rooms not just for our kids, but for your kids too. They should have equipment and safe spaces to de-compress and regulate. Our schools need more expert therapists to treat kids so that teachers and EAs can focus on supporting curriculum and not on behavior; because teachers and EAs are NOT therapists. Our schools need special education committees, so that parents have somewhere to belong, as we too are often isolated just as our kids are. Tell whomever you are speaking to that we need our psychologists, and social workers back, because we have never seen such rates of mental health needs as we are seeing currently. One mental health professional- such as a Psychiatrist or Social Worker who is expected to report to 50-100 schools is not support, and unfortunately only the most in crisis may have access to this service. Guidance counsellors and teachers can receive mental health training, but it will never be what our kids need or deserve.
My word count is limited here, but yours won't be when you speak to your representatives.
A strike might not happen and that would be great for all involved. You’ll drop off your kids as usual, and they will resume their days. Our story is different. We will still be scrambling to find places to help our kids, and we will need to keep advocating for what should be inherently a given. For us, we live in a constant world of strikes and exclusions.
I wish both parties involved in this the best solution possible so that kids have a place to go on Monday.
Thank you for reading this.
Wishing you well,
Maria Garito of Milton
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