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Autistic Youth Deserve Equal Treatment

The Ontario government claims it is making great strides to improve education in this province.

The Ministry of Education website boasts smaller class sizes, higher achievement in reading, writing and math, and more students graduating.

What the website does not say is that not all children can benefit from its programs.

Autistic children are being deprived by the province - they are the only disabled group that does not receive both treatment and education on the government's dollar.

It is an obvious case of discrimination - and it is one that a group of parents is fighting with few results.

Five families are trying to sue the Ontario government and seven school boards for negligence and damages, accusing them of failing to provide or properly fund the therapies for autistic children in schools.

Known as intensive behavioural intervention and applied behaviour analysis, the therapies for autism - a life-long neurological condition that causes developmental disability and behaviour problems - can cost between $30,000 to $80,000 a year for each child.

In 2004, the families filed a $1.25-billion lawsuit, which has yet to be certified as a class action, arguing their children were victims of discrimination because other kids with special needs receive both therapy and their education within the publicly funded school system.

Last March, Justice Maurice Cullity sided with the province in striking down several of the key claims, including negligence and damages.

However, he let stand the discrimination claim and in later dismissing the province's demand for $85,000 in legal costs, Cullity acknowledged the significance of the issue, giving hope to the families that they might still have a case.

The group was hoping its lawyer could convince the Ontario Court of Appeal during Monday's one-day hearing they should be allowed to sue for damages if their $1.25-billion class action is certified.

A three-judge Ontario Court of Appeal panel wasted little time putting pressure on lawyer David Baker.

After Baker's arguments, Justice Paul Rouleau said he's having trouble seeing why the province should be held liable.

"I understand the overall picture and I understand the difficulties these children are facing but as a judge I have to bring it back to the legal claim," he said.

The panel has reserved its decision in the case.

Let's hope they listen to experts on the issue - such as the Autism Society of Canada.

The society says treatments and services are fundamentally necessary for the majority of people with autism to help them to reach their full potential.

The society's website says access to individualized education coupled with effective treatment can greatly improve a person's quality of life, including their ability to learn, communicate with others and care for themselves.

Sadly, in order to get such care, some Ontario families have been forced to move to Alberta or B.C. Both provinces fund treatment and education for autistic children. The United States is also an option for such families where autistic children can access the therapies through the education system until the age of 21.

It is reprehensible that Ontario, one of the most prosperous provinces, has shirked its responsibility to provide these children with a chance for a better life.

The Dalton McGuinty government needs to quit treating autistic children like second-class citizens.

All children deserve the chance to reach their full potential. Article ID# 899756

Reproduced from http://www.intelligencer.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=899756

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