(De)institutionalization for Children with Autism

(De)institutionalization for Children with Autism

I began writing this on Sunday, not a bad day to think about right and wrong.

From 1965 to 1972, I was employed at Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. It was during that time that the civil rights movement contended that mental patients should not the “incarcerated” (in mental hospitals) if they have not committed a crime. The Ontario government of the day, PC (Progressive Concervarive), if I remember correctly, was only too happy to oblige. After all, it costs money to maintain hospitals. But as a result, cities were subjected to what seemed to be hordes of more-or-less-homeless mentally ill people, “crazies,” wandering the streets.

In those days, mentally challenged people were also institutionalized. In the early 2000’s, in response to public pressure and a desire to save money, the government of the day again supported deinstitutionalization. I am old enough to have seen what those institutions were like, and the reason that I have my doctorate is because I felt that someone had to be able to do something about a roomful of children in straightjackets (such as I saw at the hospital school in Smith’s Falls). Believe me, closing those institutions was a good thing to do.

Actually, to put a positive spin on it, the government of the day was also supporting that move for all of the right reasons. In fact, it was Kathleen Wynne, our current (Liberal) premier, speaking for the government, who said,

“Over a period of generations, and under various governments, too many of these men, women, children and their families were deeply harmed and continue to bear the scars and the consequences of this time. Their humanity was undermined; they were separated from their families and robbed of their potential, their comfort, safety and their dignity.”

“Today, Mr. Speaker, we no longer see people with developmental disabilities as something “other.” They are boys and girls, men and women, with hopes and dreams like all of us. In Ontario, all individuals deserve our support, our respect and our care. We must look out for one another, take care of one another, challenge ourselves to be led by our sense of moral purpose before all else. Today, we strive to support people with developmental disabilities so they can live as independently as possible and be more fully included in all aspects of their community.

As a society, we seek to learn from the mistakes of the past. And that process continues. I know, Mr. Speaker, that we have more work to do. And so we will protect the memory of all those who have suffered, help tell their stories and ensure that the lessons of this time are not lost.”

What has happened to that that moral compass, since it appears that they have just consigned a large number of autistic children (over the age of four years) to a life without the treatment that they need to have a chance to become functional members of society?

In addition, it is estimated that the cost of Intensive Behavioual Intervention would be about $ 75-100 thousand per child, while lack of treatment is expected to cost society between $1.5 – 2.5 million per person in lifelong support – short term financial gain and long term financial loss. Could it be that there is an old institution standing vacant?

Please join the Ontario Autism Coalition and help correct this misguided decision.

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