When Tamara Dannecker moved 2,000 kilometres to French Beach in mid-August, she was looking forward to a fresh start for Mica, her four-year-old son.
She even had a spot reserved for Mica, who has mild autism, at a preschool in Sooke under the mutual understanding he will receive the support he needs to begin his education.
Only, things didn’t quite go to plan.
“I needed to sign some paperwork with a worker from the Native Friendship Centre, and we agreed to meet in the parking lot. At some point, Mica saw me through the window of the preschool, and that triggered an outburst, because he could see his mom, but couldn’t get to his mom,” Dannecker said.
It was Mica’s first and last day at the school.
“The school called the following day to say he wasn’t allowed back in the classroom,” she said, adding that she disclosed her son’s condition to the school before leaving the northern reaches of Fort Nelson.
Dannecker said a support worker couldn’t be found for Mica’s first day at school, so a behavioral interventionist was brought in to assist him twice a week for the first two weeks until one would become available.
Still, despite the extra help, she said the school left her with no options.
“They said, moving forward, we’ll do something, but nothing has happened since. After one day, they dumped us, without giving him a fair chance,” Dannecker said.
She pointed out that for her son, separation anxiety is the big kicker and that he’s relatively low on the spectrum scale otherwise.
“Mica is a really happy go lucky little guy, if they gave him a fair chance, they would have seen that he needs less assistance rather than more assistance than other kids. He’s one of the lowest maintenance one of them all,” she said, adding that he’s fully comprehensive, potty-trained and independent.
Regardless of how complex a child with autism may be, every child has a right to an education based on the B.C. Education Act, said Astrid Koenig, co-owner of Building Bridges Community Support, a Sooke-based organization that works with preschool-aged children with autism.
“They had absolutely no right to say that they could not educate that child,” Koenig said, who has assisted and worked with children and adults with autism for 40 years.
Currently, she’s working with seven different children with autism and does early intervention from the time of diagnosis until the child is six years old.
As happens with autism spectrum disorder, Koenig pointed out that no two children with autism are the same either, and each will have his or her own unique variation and ability to communicate.
“You’ll have children who are very high functioning and may have issues with social skills, or communication skills, all the way to kids who may not communicate, have serious issues with social skills, have developmental delays, so there’s a large range where kids are involved,” she said, adding that over the last 20 years, there was one in 10,000 children with autism.
“For a school to say that it cannot teach a child with autism, if a child cannot come back to the school, they are saying that they will not educate one in 68 children,” Koenig said.
Government assistance is available to those affected, though Koenig noted the waiting period to get a child assessed is sometimes up to three years.
And even then, it might not even make any difference.
“Funding is cut by more than 75 per cent once the child reaches the age of six, because it’s assumed that the school system will take over,” she said, highlighting the importance of assisting a child with autism early on in their lives.
“It’s a very complex disorder because it affects the entire life of the child; it’s not unusual to have behavior concerns at the same time with autism, because one of the major things that autism affects is the ability to communicate. If a child can’t communicate, then he or she will act out as their form of communication,” Koenig said.
As for Dannecker and her son, she hopes that she can find some level of support soon.
“If not preschool, at least getting him to some programming so I can go back to work. That’s really my goal here.”