3 provinces get failing grade for special education: report

TheStar.com – parentcentral.ca/parent/education
October 27, 2010.   Ciara Byrne,  The Canadian Press

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who live in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are at a dramatic educational disadvantage compared to their counterparts across the country, a national report card released Wednesday found.

All three provinces received failing grades from the Centre for ADHD Advocacy Canada for their performance in recognizing and supporting children with ADHD.

Unless they have a second learning disability, students with the disorder in those provinces do not receive proper educational services, the group found.

“Right now, the way it sits in Ontario, B.C., and Quebec, a student with ADHD alone — so a student that doesn’t have an additional disorder — would not meet the definitions of those categories,” said national director Heidi Bernhardt.

“The impact is the student wouldn’t be deemed an exceptional student and wouldn’t have right to accommodations,” she added.

The report laid out inconsistencies across the country on how students with ADHD are identified and accommodated in school systems.

Provinces have identification systems, which are used to recognize students with special needs, and, in turn, provide resources to help those students. These accommodations include such things as allowing the child to write a test in a quiet room, so they won’t be distracted, or special homework assignments.

“If you have a student who has learning needs and they don’t have the right to any of these accommodations, it’s usually stressful,” Bernhardt said.

“The student is not able to perform up to their potential.”

The report also said because school systems in those three provinces don’t recognize the disorder it encourages educators to believe that ADHD is not a legitimate disability.

Victoria Patacairk said her nine-year-old son Peter has struggled for years with his ADHD. Any support he’s received at his Ottawa school has come from teachers who’ve worked hard out of “the goodness of their heart.”

“They go well over and above what the school boards and province requires, because there aren’t the tools in place in the school system,” Patacairk said.

“They’re dealing with children like Peter as best as they can.”

Patacairk said she fears what will happen when her son, who is in Grade 5, leaves the elementary school system for high school.

“The resources aren’t there for these kids. I am in fear that he’s not going to get what he needs and that it’s going to be that much more difficult.”

Patacairk said for an ADHD child, learning in a regular classroom can be quite difficult as the “slightest noise, slightest disruption” can “set them off.”

Without assistance for these children, it can become a “downward spiral,” especially for teachers who try to play referee in the classroom, she added.

The organization scored each province based on information collected during interviews with ministries of education across the country.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland received a grade of “good” for identifying ADHD children as “exceptional students,” meaning a student fits into a recognized category and receives support.

Bernhardt said these provinces realized that many children were “barred from being recognized,” and fixed the problem.

“Saskatchewan, in the last two years, has increased their number of categories,” she said.

The remaining provinces and territories scored “satisfactory,” meaning, in some cases, they included input from specialists and parents during the program planning process.

In an email, a spokesman from Ontario’s Ministry of Education said teachers, principals and school boards work with students to address concerns raised by parents and accommodate learning needs.

Gary Wheeler said supports are often determined on a “case by case basis.” In addition, he said a special education grant can provide support regardless if a student is identified as having exceptionalities.

Education ministers from Quebec and British Columbia were not immediately available for comment.

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