"Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements."
~ Napoleon Hill

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Telling It Like It Is

Kudos to Dr. Brian Hennen for telling it like it is when it comes to life for persons with developmental disabilities in Nova Scotia.

I met Dr. Hennen and his colleagues for the first time the end of May when I took the Blue Jay to a transition clinic for young adults in Halifax. And I must say that I was very impressed with what they were/are doing - armed with the latest clinical guidelines for the care of adults with developmental disabilities, Dr. Hennen (a psychiatrist) and Dr. Clarke (a family doctor), joined by a supporting cast of a few other doctors and nurses offer a complete assessment of the young adult's physical and mental health, making appropriate recommendations to the family doctor for continuing care and, where necessary, referrals to other specialists.

Yeah, I was impressed - because really, how often do individuals with special needs (particularly adults) appear to be after-thoughts found on the side of the road, left to fend for themselves best as they can? Whether it be the health system, the criminal justice or elsewhere, this sadly appears more likely than not.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see Dr. Hennen's op ed in today's paper - an op ed which essentially sets out Nova Scotia's history (the good, the bad and the ugly) over the past five years in dealing with persons with developmental disabilities.

Offering both kudos and criticism where appropriate, Dr. Hennen notes the self-assessment undertaken with much fan-fare in 2008 by the Services for Persons with Disability (SPD) program, following which fewer than half of the resulting recommendations were fully implemented to the two reviews conducted by that same program following reports of abuse at a residential care centre in 2010 and the terrible treatment of an autistic young man in the Braemore Home in Sydney in 2011; both resulting in numerous recommendations, few of which were actually acted upon.

From research showing that half of the 156 adult Nova Scotians with developmental disabilities interviewed were unhappy with their living arrangements to the April 2011 report to the Standing Committee on Community Services concerning the inadequacy of residential options available to Nova Scotians with developmental disabilities (including the fact that one-third of individuals referred with developmental disability and psychiatric or behavioural challenges did not actually have mental illness, but were troubled by the inappropriate residential situations in which they had been placed). Kudos to the committee’s members who actually had the guts to admit their lack of awareness of the key issues.

From the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention program for pre-school children with autism started in 2005 (for which demand far outstripped supply) that five years later finally opened its door to allow access for all such children to the highly successful Access to Community Education & Employment (ACEE) program, piloted in 2007, that offers a one-year program in life skills and vocational experiences to youth following the completion of high school, which was finally awarded secure funding in 2009.

Alas, Dr. Hennen fails to note the ACEE program (like so many) is only available to youth who reside in the Halifax Regional Municipality, leaving many, many who could benefit from it out in the cold (and most likely stuck in high school until they are 21 due to the lack of any other options).

Looking forward, Dr. Hennen notes that although that five years ago teaching programs for health professionals had little developmental disability content, the new undergraduate curriculum provides medical students with a minimum of 13 hours of such content over four years, with a further six hours of inter-professional learning about developmental disabilities planned. Family practice trainees will also have defined learning experiences in each of two years of training.

Leaving us exactly where, you ask?

I could do no better than offer Dr. Hennen's final words in reply.
As are other jurisdictions, Nova Scotia will be judged by how well it supports its citizens with developmental disabilities in their bid to live independently and contribute to our community. As care providers, teachers, advocates and government departments, we know we can do better. 

Cross-posted at Free Fallling


Anonymous said...

Thanks Michelle. I had no idea. That's the problem with op eds in the summer time. Personally, I think this post should be a letter to the editor. Think about it :)

Anonymous said...

The ACEE program needs to be available to all areas of the province. In Yarmouth, most students do not have the option to stay in school until they are 21. They are "graduated" after spending 1 year in each grade level and may not return to school unless they go through a complicated application process justifying why they should be allowed to return. They are also told that they will mot receive support. So at 17 or 18 most are just out of school.

MMC said...

That is something you might want to contact me about - some parents in HRM successfully took on this very issue a few years ago and the Education Act is very clear that students have the right to stay in school until they are 21. They also tried to tell these parents that their children would receive no extra support if they returned to school and that didn't wash in the end either.

I would seriously suggest you contact the Minister of Education, Ramona Jennex, in this regard. I think she might well be very receptive to your issue. In fact, I have a meeting with Ramona on a Communuity Services matter next Friday - I would be happy to bring this issue up on your behalf. Drop me an email

Anonymous said...

Won't it be great if young adults with disability labels had sufficient options in their lives that they did not want to contiue in high school until age 21? I think that it is important that young adults be provided with the opportunity to continue with high school if they so choose (because they are gaining skills that will provide them with more opportunity post high school), but the problem is that all too often people stay in high school until 21 simply because there are no other options.

MMC said...

Exactly. And I would hazard a guess that this is happening in the
majority of cases. But as bad as that is, it is even worse to deny them the option of continuing in school, which is their legal right under the Education Act.

As an aside, it would be really nice if people who post annonymously would end their post with their first name (or even a nickname). For example, in this comment thread we have 3 annonymous posters and I have no idea whether I've been chatting with two or three different people. :)