‘I don’t think they believe our kids have potential’

South Surrey mom says reduced autism support raises safety, education concerns

South Surrey parent Juliane Khadra is fighting for 30 minutes a day.

It’s the amount of time that has been cut from her 10-year-old son Liam’s ABA (applied behavioural analysis) classroom support hours for his coming school year at White Rock Elementary – to 25 hours a week from 27.5.

School district officials say such allocations, including any determination to increase or decrease them, follow ongoing and extensive evaluations of student needs.

But Khadra said this week that the decision has brought her to a point of desperation. She feels her son’s education isn’t a priority for the district, and she is fearful of the potential impact to both his education and safety.

She is not alone in her concerns. The issue of reduced support in the classroom is one that at least three parents, including Khadra, have raised with Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux “within the last couple of weeks.”

Cadieux confirmed to Peace Arch News Tuesday that she is looking into the issue.

Surrey School District spokesman Doug Strachan said he cannot comment on a specific student’s case, but that, in general, allocated support hours “are aligned with student needs” as reported by school-based teams.

The individual students’ needs are evaluated on an ongoing basis, “informed and guided by not only district professionals, but also independent research,” Strachan told PAN by email, noting support hours may be increased or decreased over the course of a school year based on those evaluations.

However, Khadra said that if nothing changes for Liam, she’ll have to pull him out of school a half-hour early every day – not just because the decrease will impact her son’s progress as a student with autism but, because in that unsupported time, Liam’s safety will be at risk.

“I’m freaking out. In two weeks, what’s going to happen? The only thing I have right now is I have to pull my son out,” she said.

Khadra explained that Liam, who is entering Grade 5, has a life-threatening heart condition and that only those who know him well can recognize the signs of it. Despite being verbal, she said, Liam can’t communicate any symptoms he may be experiencing.

On top of that, Liam is a flight risk, and he will likely disrupt his peers during the time without his ABA worker, she said.

“Combining those three, we have always full-time support at school, one-on-one.”

Khadra said she learned of the reduction in late-May. In an effort to reinstate the time, she said, she provided extensive documentation to district officials “way back in June,” including letters from Liam’s pediatrician and teachers confirming his need for full-time support in the classroom, as well as an updated assessment that indicates Liam has a “massive delay” in receptive and expressive communication.

Despite the documentation, she said, her appeals have had no impact.

“I’ve been advocating all summer,” Khadra said.

She contacted PAN after an Aug. 16 email from the district stated there were “no additional resources” to allocate.

Khadra’s been told that an education assistant (EA) could be assigned to Liam for the outstanding time, but she described that as akin to a babysitter.

“They won’t know Liam, they won’t know the risk,” she said. “(And) babysitting… is not an education we’re looking at.”

Khadra said she worries this year’s cut will only lead to more, which would increase the potential that Liam’s ABA worker – who has been with him since 18 months before he started school – will be forced to look elsewhere for full-time hours.

“If she leaves, I have no backup,” Khadra said, explaining it takes time for ABA workers to be trained and develop a relationship with the child they are supporting.

One woman who has worked with Liam at home since he was about six said she believes the importance of that continuity sometimes “gets a bit lost.”

The worker – who asked not to be named out of concern that speaking publicly could impact her employment with the district – said 30 minutes of unsupported class time will “100 per cent” have an impact.

“That is valuable learning time for the entire class,” she said.

The worker described Liam as “so willing to try his best… If he’s comfortable with people, he’s ready to get in there.”

READ MORE: Parents fight for ‘systemic change’ in how Surrey students with autism are supported

Khadra said she believes that those making the decisions are seeing a 30-minute reduction in support time as “no big deal… But this is the start.”

Reluctantly, Khadra said, she has given up on making the fight about Liam’s education.

“I stopped arguing the education rights for him altogether, because for them, it doesn’t seem that it’s as important anymore,” she said. “I would love to get them to pay attention to the education. I’m sending him to school because I want him to reach his maximum potential.

“I don’t think they believe our kids have potential.”

Strachan didn’t have details on funding for support hours at PAN’s press time, but said the board “has always prioritized the classroom and student support when it comes to budget-related decisions.” He noted Wednesday that the district did increase EA hours in a number of cases for the coming year.

Cadieux told PAN she wants to get the full picture from all sides before deciding on further steps.

“First, I have to get a sense of the situation,” she said, adding she wants to “respect the process.”

Cadieux said she doesn’t expect much, if any, movement on the issue before school starts, but “I am going to follow it.”

 

Juliane Khadra reads an email she sent to school district officials regarding the cut to her son Liam’s support hours, appealing for “equal access to educational service.” (Tracy Holmes photo) Juliane Khadra reads an email she sent to school district officials regarding the cut to her son Liam’s support hours, appealing for “equal access to educational service.” (Tracy Holmes photo)

A letter from Liam’s teachers in support of full-time support hours. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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