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by Briana Shymanski

The 2011 – 2012 budget has increased funding for autism care programs by $1 million.

 

Autism Spectrum Disorder is an issue that the Saskatchewan government has been addressing in recent budgets.  In 2008, the government created an action plan that would provide $3 million in annual funding for autism services across Saskatchewan.

Early intervention is the priority, according to Health Minister Don McMorris. Autism intervention services will receive $900,000 of the funding, with $100,000 earmarked for diagnostics. 

“It’s important that children who suffer from autism have the proper resources early, whether it’s speech pathology or whatever else they need.  It doesn’t help to diagnose and then not have (service) delivery.  We need to have service delivery,” said McMorris. 

Kerri Staples, a kinesiology professor at the University of Regina who has studied ASD, believes that the attention should be placed on intervention and that 2008 action plan was a good start for improving Saskatchewan’s autism intervention services.  Autism consultants were placed in each of the province’s health districts, but she says that there is still work to do in terms distributing resources evenly province wide and providing better service to rural communities.

 “(Saskatchewan) is the last province to have standardized procedures for diagnostics.  (We) lag behind a lot in terms of wait times and in terms of the amount of clinicians and psychologist who are trained to diagnose.  They’re mainly in the urban centres, like Saskatoon and Regina, which doesn’t make use of our entire province,” said Staples.

For the government, the key to improving the distribution of funding and resources is the work of intergovernmental committees and ministries.

“The children and welfare committee is looking into how we can better utilize the resources from many ministries to make sure we deliver the right care,” said McMorris.

A solution that Staples offers is shifting some of the autism funding from Sask Health to Sask Education.  She believes that implementing autism intervention into the provinces’ schools and daycares is essential for servicing rural communities.

“We can’t keep physicians in our province.  How are we supposed to keep autism specialists here?  The only way we can meet the needs of all children in our province is if we start targeting them at schools and training the school professionals (on autism intervention).” said Staples.

ASD was once a rare and foreign concept.  In 1995, one in 10,000 children had been diagnosed with ASD.  Today, ASD is the most common disorder in children where one in every 200 children has a form of autism.  According to the World Health Organization, the incidence rates for ASD in Canadian children are higher than the childhood rates of cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. 

Photo by Andwhatsnext/WikiCommons