Special Needs Kids: What They, and Their Families, Want and Need
In regard to the latest statistics on special education from the OnSIS (Ontario School Information System), 16.6% of all provincial students between grades 1 and 12 (approximately 334,000 students) receive some form of a special education program or service.
Although the government has been doing a lot to help special needs children and their families i.e. from passing legislation (the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act) to providing funding for special education among many other programs, a lot more should be done according to special needs children and their families.
According to a recent report by the Provincial Advocate for Children & Youth called; We Have Something to Say, special needs children, youth and their families have spoken out on the current state of affairs, challenges and what needs to be done.
What are special needs children, youth and their families, saying?
A Lot More Needs to be Done
Special needs children, youth and their families, acknowledge that the government is doing something. However, they feel a lot more needs to be done given the complex nature of the needs of people with special needs.
There is a general consensus that people with special needs are yet to receive the kind of care they are entitled to in a school and community setting. Although there have been visible improvements, there are still gaps in policy, service standards and professional practice.
Lack of Social Inclusion
A lot needs to be done on social inclusion in schools and the community. Special needs children, youth, and their parents feel a lot more needs to be done to make sure special needs kids embrace childhood, feel accepted and included in the school and community. Special needs kids want to be protected from bullying when they are in typical school settings. Lack of resources and services supporting social inclusion is a big part of the conversation on what needs to be done.
Parents Require More Support
Also, many parents feel they don’t have access to the support they need to meet the complex needs of their special needs children. Many parents have expressed concern that caring for their special needs children sometimes deprives them of the opportunity to be typical parents. Without funding and other assistance, parents tend to play the role of medical caregivers, a role which deprives special needs children important nurturing and emotional connections which are a crucial part of learning.
Special Needs Children need to be Consulted More
Special needs children have expressed a need to be consulted more by service providers, the government, educators among other stakeholders offering them help. Special needs kids feel they have a lot of useful knowledge and experiences to share. They want to be involved as equal partners in all discussions on special needs alongside the government, educators and service providers. According to the Provincial Advocate for Children & Youth office, most of the advocacy services requests received come from the youth and children with special needs.
Service providers, the government, educators and parents need to stop focusing on limitations of special needs kids
Special needs kids have also expressed concerns about feeling limited. They instead want to be allowed to take some risks, explore as well as learn and live by their own terms. Regardless of their special needs, they want to be supported fully. For instance, instead of focusing on limiting them, they want school settings to be safer and more welcoming.
Special Needs Services need to be Brought Nearer
Many special needs children, youth, and their families have also expressed concerns about special needs services being too far. These concerns have been raised by the special needs youth living in remote northern fly-in communities with no access to the special needs services and resources they need. In such cases, special needs children, youth and their families are forced to travel long distances or leave their homes and schools permanently to get care. The scarcity of services for native communities also brings unique problems like language barriers i.e. when a family whose first language isn’t English or French is forced to settle in Canada and navigate services which aren’t tailored in native languages.
Long Waiting Lists to Access some Services
Concerns have also been expressed on the long waiting lists for assessment and diagnostics testing. For special needs kids and youth to access some resources and services, while still learning, they have to go through assessment and diagnostics testing since these services can be costly and scarce in some parts of Ontario. Any prior diagnostic testing documentation doesn’t automatically give special needs individuals access to the treatment, services and support they need so they have to join long waiting lists, retell their stories, explain why they require services and face many other stresses that weigh in on their learning and families.
A lot has been done by the Ontario government to assist children and youth with special needs. A lot more is still being done. For instance, the Ministry of Education will spend $2.6 billion on special education in 2016. According to the Education Minister, Mitzie Hunter, it’s up to school boards to ensure those funds are allocated appropriately. With feedback from reports such as; Have Something to Say, school boards know what special needs children, youth, and their families want and need going forward.