What’s Going on In Canada? Autistic Children in Isolation Rooms

Filed Under (Activism, Human Rights, Law) by Estee on 22-11-2013

The CBC news story on an autistic child being sent regularly to an isolation in a B.C. school was aired this morning. The student, who is “mildly autistic” (she can speak), is sent regularly to a windowless room. In polling the other young students if she should go, they responded with a resounding yes.

So what’s going on in Canada? Recently, the institutional “residents” of Huronia were awarded for their incarceration and imposed sterilization in Canada. Schools regularly remove students from classrooms. Despite the loss of the Auton case, ABA is the only “therapy” in Canada that attempts to normalize the autistic child. Negative reinforcement is still used in some of our government-funded autism centres. So while Auton didn’t win, the ABA movement has. There is no choice for autistic children in Canada. The Harper government has an agenda of ridding autism from our country. Money is spent from our “top” charity Autism Speaks to cure autism and when those same ABA schools and communities apply for funding for a $5,000 whiteboard, those grants are denied. As Ari Ne’eman writes in Loud Hands Speaking, the charity Autism Speaks does nothing to support autistic people and the communities that support them. Those same walks in our communities, with the parents who give thousands of dollars to it, get nothing from that charity in the way of supporting autistic well-being, lives and options. Despite deinstitutionalization, the rehab and medial model is supported to keep incarcerating people with disabilities. There is a human rights model, and those in the rehab and educational industries would be wise to start reading.

In the meantime, the B.C. school board seems defensive about its position. Policy-makers are deferring and the autistic girl is left in limbo and to the devices of a system that remains intolerant of her inclusion. There is an air of defense in this position. This, let us be reminded, however, that this is an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Enable on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is against the law as more cases set the precedents (it is still an hermeneutical exercise it seems, but the principles apply); we have to keep working. The school system, which only cares about those who conform the best and get through the fastest (it’s a business model of course that doesn’t care about those who require support – it uses the cost-benefit/burden models), supports this marginalization. Most disturbing is the trend of adults who poll young children, or indeed condone this isolation of their autistic peers. These adults need to be questioned, their attitudes need to be changed, and in most cases, the only way to implement change is to bring this to the courts.

And where will our Autism charities be in incidents like in B.C.? Those who continue to support the amelioration of autistic people in the guise of acceptance and help? There is a predominant medical and libertarian model that we urgently need to discuss. It makes sense when government money supports economic solutions, that is, proposals to make children normal contributors to the market economy. Of course, these are just proposals. Work projects will only work when autistic people are respected, their rights upheld and dignity in place. As in other countries, all people (especially considering our economic privilege in this country) should receive a baseline of support in order to live good lives (but I’ll leave that discussion for another post). These are modeled in other countries but we don’t pay attention. There are too many people living in poverty and many other people are making lots of money in the false-marketing of cure and recovery, not assistance, support, rights, social supports, attitudes, and yes, employment – the latter which more often than not is also a means of emotional and social support. Such exclusion in policy and law speaks volumes. Autism Speak’s leader in Toronto states that she “hates autism but not her child.” What message does that send to a public still in need of education about disability, it’s history and human rights? How does that attitude improve the lives and acceptance of her child, and other people who will always be autistic? These are the challenges that are most difficult to face and that ask many families with any child who is different to lock up their doors and stay off the playground. If we don’t talk now, we are risking a horrible reversion to institutionalization.

Instead, let us think about how we can work together to recognize that our country is sick, not autistic children and adults. We some of that change such as the recent settlement of former inmates of Huronia. We need to work with our communities to identify the attitudes and policies that lock us out and keep us in isolation.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.