American UVic prof forced to leave Canada after immigration rules son’s autism too big a taxpayer burden

Amid concerns the U.S. autism rates are higher than previously thought, a University of Victoria professor is being forced to take his family back to their native United States because his young son is autistic.

Psychology instructor Jeffrey Niehaus, his wife and two children are preparing to leave Canada after immigration officials denied their application to become permanent residents on grounds that treating their son's autism would be a costly burden on taxpayers.

"We understand some safeguards have to be put in place," Niehaus told Postmedia News on Wednesday.

"I think that (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) were unable or unwilling to balance … the contributions we could make as taxpayers and the amount it would cost (to treat the child)."

Treatment costs are hard to estimate because autism symptoms can range from mild to severe.

But Niehaus argued the contributions he and his wife, a registered thoracic nurse at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital, could have made to Canada would have outweighed the cost of treating Kurt, who was diagnosed with autism in 2010 at aged 18 months. The couple also has a daughter born in Canada the same year.

Niehaus's application to stay got legal support from the university but it didn't help. Niehaus has found a job in Virginia, Postmedia reported.

The Niehaus family emigrated from California three years ago after Jeffrey finished grad school. But their plans to make Canada home and become citizens were derailed when Kurt Niehaus was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

In a November 2010 letter to the family, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said Kurt was "a person whose health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services in Canada."

Niehaus said he was shocked to learn the diagnosis was enough to bar the family from becoming Canadian citizens.

But he insisted he's not bitter about the family's rejection.

"Strangely, no," he told CTV News. "I'm a guest."

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns autism may be more common than previously thought, affecting as many as one in 88 children, CBC News reported.

The agency's report found about one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls were identified as having autism spectrum disorders, characterized as developmental disabilities that include social interaction issues, communication impairment and "restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour," according to the report.

The report suggests the higher prevalence estimate is due to better diagnosis and wider screening.

The new report, based on 2008 figures, puts the rate at 11.3 per 1,000 children aged eight, compared with a 2004 estimate of eight per 1,000 kids.

According to the Autism Society of Canada, autism spectrum disorders occur in about one in 200 people in Canada and is usually diagnosed in the first three years of life.