It’s time for children suffering from Asperger’s syndrome to have their voices heard, says a volunteer with Autism Ontario.
Thanks to a new program at East Metro Youth Services, that process is beginning.
The program is called Asperger’s Youth for Community, Engagement and Socialization and it runs as an after-school and Saturday respite affair for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s.
Asperger’s is a condition relating to Autism, though children with the former have relatively good speaking skills, though difficulty communicating. According to scientest Katherine Boydell, of the Hospital for Sick Children, they “often use inappropriate body language and do not appear to listen to others or recognize their intentions or non-verbal cues.”
The hit television show Boston Legal includes a character with Asperger’s Syndrome. Actor Christian Clemenson won an Emmy Award for his role as a brilliant lawyer who struggles against the affliction.
Lynda Beedham is a volunteer with the Chapter Leadership Council of Autism Ontario.
“There is a severe and chronic lack of programs in Toronto for people with Asperger’s,” said Lynda Beedham, a volunteer with Autism Ontario. “The situation is the same everywhere in Ontario.”
East Metro Youth Services is the only place in Scarborough that offers such a service for families dealing with Asperger’s. Announced on Jan. 28, the program is being funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
“This is the first time that there’s been funding allocated specifically to youth with Asperger’s,” said Deborah Kernohan, supervisor with East Metro Youth Services.
“The purpose of [the program] is to provide a safe place for youth with Asperger’s to come and develop the life and social skills that are really necessary.”
Kernohan said there has been funding for people with Autism, but people with Asperger’s cannot apply for those services because they do not have a developmental disability and are within the normative range of intellect.
“Many times, we found here that kids diagnosed with Asperger’s fall through the cracks,” Kernohan said. “They don’t fit in terms of programming for kids that have a developmental disability and they don’t fit with neuro-typical kids because socially, they have so many challenges.”
Boydell’s study was completed in December for East Metro Youth Services. For the work, called A Patchwork Quilt: Mothers’ Perspectives on the Needs of Children and Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome, 30 mothers were interviewed.
Kernohan said the study discusses the frustration and isolation that mothers felt in looking for services for their child with Asperger’s syndrome.
“A lot of mothers and families have gone for years where their son or daughter has not even been diagnosed and then they get to the point when they’re diagnosed and they say ‘OK, we need services,’ and there aren’t any,” she said.
Although the local program is funded as a respite program, Kernohan said that it’s more of a structured treatment idea. This includes components of group recreational activities and individual treatment with workers.
“Because we are a children’s mental health agency here at East Metro, it’s not just about providing a drop-in,” Kernohan said. “We formulate the youth’s long and short term goals for them to work toward.”
According to Kernohan, there are a number of families in the community that are dealing with Asperger’s syndrome.
“We’re looking at being able to service about 84 families,” Kernohan said. “Should we reach that limit, that’s when I’ll turn to the ministry and tell them that we need more funding because there’s a demand.”
Kernohan said the program has many spaces available. For more information, contact East Metro Youth Services at 416-438-3697.