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Barrie mother of autistic boy battling for changes

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Aiden Flemming, a Grade 4 student at Assikinack Public School in Barrie, plays LEGO at his home. Aiden, who has autism, is without an education assistant, something his mother believes he needs. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Aiden Flemming, a Grade 4 student at Assikinack Public School in Barrie, plays LEGO at his home. Aiden, who has autism, is without an education assistant, something his mother believes he needs. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

Aiden Flemming weighed one pound when he was born at 24 weeks.

About six pounds shy and two months early of a normal birth, that he survived at all is what his parents considered a miracle.

“When he was in the incubator, he used a facecloth for a blankey,” his mother, Deanna, said after school.

The Grade 4 student at Assikinack Public School in Barrie flipped through the photo album of his baby pictures as his mother discussed the constant fight to get special assistance for her son, who suffered from oxygen deprivation as a premature infant.

“Anyone who has a special-needs kid has to battle for these things,” Flemming said.

“Don’t get me wrong, both the principal and his teacher have done everything they can to help me," she added. "But the system itself is so slow.”

Flemming transferred Aiden from Trillium Woods Elementary School to Assikinack in September when they moved.

She said he had a wonderful educational assistant (EA) at Trillium, but has struggled to get the same quality of one-on-one attention he had at his previous school.

Initially, the school had an EA for him, but was paying by the week and the money ran out.

He has since been transferred to the learning centre for half days, where he shares the attention of one EA between several students, she said.

“He’s a flight risk. He’s on the autism spectrum, so when he gets frustrated, he just shuts down,” she said.

Flemming said the province’s budget explicitly states there is funding for special needs students.

Under the Ministry of Education’s Grants for Special Needs (GSN), it says “the GSN supports funding for the classroom, school leadership and operations, specific student-related priorities and local management by school boards. The GSN’s purpose is to help the system of Achieving Excellence, Ontario’s closing gaps by, for example, meeting special educations needs and improving language proficiency.”

“Neither of those statements is true,” Flemming said. “Why am I facing such a battle trying to get my son EA support so that he has access to an education, as is his right? Gaps are not being closed, they are being made bigger and children like my son are suffering for it.”

The Simcoe County District School Board has 670 education assistants, said Chris Samis, superintendent of education.

“I am aware of the situation at Assikinack. That said, I am not able to speak about specific situations involving a child with special-education needs,” Samis said.

Speaking generally, Samis said the board reviews staffing levels of schools three times each year beginning in September, again in February and then in June to ensure they’re meeting students’ needs, including those who have arrived during the school year.

As children develop, their needs change and so does the level of support, he said.

“Education assistants are not assigned to specific students, as that is contraindicated and quite often results in dependence. EAs are assigned to classes, and depending on the activity and need, work with a wide variety of students at once,” he said.

When students require special assistance, they are given an individual education plan, or IEP, to access the system. When they require additional support, parents can ask the principal for their child to be considered for an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) classification, or a review by a committee to determine if the child should be considered an ‘exceptional student’.

The principal has 10 days to respond to the request for an IPRC and set the process in motion.

Once a parent has proved the child has exceptional circumstances through a physicians’ note, psychological exam, students can be given an IPRC designation.

With 52,000 students, the public school board has 9,500 students with an IEP and about 3,800 or 40% of those have an IPRC.

“If there’s information to support an IPRC and the supporting documentation, there can be special assistance given. But if they’re getting regular support through an IEP, they may never need an IPRC,” Samis said.

And Samis points out that a child’s needs change as they grow older.

“One of the reasons an EA with one person isn’t done, is that it causes exclusion by doing it,” Samis said. “The other kids leave them alone. As students get older, they don’t want to be shadowed by an EA. They want them there when they need them, but don’t want them there all the time.” 

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