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Neurodiverse students need timelier support: New West school board

Families may wait 80 weeks for an autism assessment, and trustees say that’s not good enough.
Help needed: Students who may be struggling in the classroom while they wait for neurodiversity assessments need timelier access to support, SD40 says. Photo GlobalStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus

New Westminster school trustees want to make sure neurodiverse students can get the support they need more quickly.

Trustees voted at their June 6 education committee meeting to advocate to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Child and Family Development and the Ministry of Education and Child Care to reduce wait times for students who have been identified as needing educational assessments.

Trustee Danielle Connelly, who brought the motion to the committee, noted the idea had been brought forward at the B.C. School Trustees Association’s annual general meeting.

A background report she provided to her fellow trustees pointed out that the province’s current funding model for students with diverse needs is partly based on completed assessments — but districts around the province have long internal wait lists for those assessments.

In B.C., as of Dec. 23, 2022, the overall wait time for an autism spectrum disorder assessment was more than 80 weeks from the time of referral. Some health regions report current wait times of at least two years (104 weeks).

Connelly’s report pointed out that children who’ve been identified with neurodiversity — such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sensory processing disorder — need support plans, and information from those assessments is needed to design the programs and interventions they need.

Some families are choosing to get assessments done privately, but that means paying the costs out of pocket, and access to private assessments varies around the province.

All of that, Connelly noted, means assessment wait times are a real equity issue.

“More letters written can hopefully bring about the change that we’re all looking for,” she said.

Trustee Cheryl Sluis voiced her support for the motion.

“It’s something that I have heard about from parents in our community, and it’s really important that we as a district are doing everything we can to make sure that kids are able to get these assessments in a timely way,” she said.

Trustee Elliott Slinn, who said he personally experienced a long wait for an assessment as a student, agreed.

“It definitely impacts students and, I believe, can really affect their self-confidence and learning, so I think it’s important that they’re able to get the assessment so that they have the supports they need to be successful,” he said.

The motion will return to the full school board meeting on June 20 for formal adoption.

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