Quebec father calls wait for speech therapy for child with autism a 'nightmare'

Quebec father calls wait for speech therapy for child with autism a 'nightmare'

Sam Kuhn's daughter Charlotte, who has autism and is non-verbal, has been waiting for publicly funded speech therapy for five years, only to be told she is now too old to benefit from a government subsidy.

Kuhn first went public about his daughter's struggle to gain access to publicly funded occupational and speech therapy services in October 2016. Charlotte has been on the waiting list since she was two.

He told CBC that the family tried everything, launching a Gofundme page to raise money to pay for private services and reaching out to media and the government.

When Charlotte's number finally did come up, Kuhn was told he had to choose between occupational and speech therapy.

"How in the world do you make that choice?" he said.

The family chose occupational therapy, hoping that after three months, Charlotte — who likes to be called Charlie — could begin speech therapy at the same centre. Not long after her seventh birthday, however, the family was told she had aged out of the eligibility for individual speech therapy.

"We lost that vital window of opportunity," said Kuhn. His daughter still only speaks a few words.

Private speech therapy, he said, isn't an option as it costs around $120 an hour.

They almost moved out of the province in an effort to get Charlie the help she needs elsewhere. Then Charlie got a place at Summit School, and Kuhn decided to stay put for now.

"It's been a nightmare," said Kuhn.

Camped out in the cold

Kuhn staged a sit-in outside of Quebec Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois's Montreal office Tuesday to protest against this latest development in his daughter's story, and he says he will hold demonstrations as often as he can.

CBC News contacted both the regional health authority, the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, and Charlebois's media spokesperson for comment. The statements they sent included the following information:

- Services for children with autism are offered according to age, for those zero to six, and for those seven and up, by two interdisciplinary teams that work in tandem.

- The needs of preschool-aged children are different from those who attend school, and services are adapted based on the age group.

- When a child transitions into the seven-and-up group, a new educator takes over and ensures there is continuity with the services received, involving the interdisciplinary team as needed. 

- The interdisciplinary team is made up of educators, psycho-educators, speech therapists and occupational therapists.

The CIUSSS statement adds that officials can't talk about Charlie's specific case, due to privacy issues.

Kuhn says he blames the Liberal government for making his daughter wait so long for the services she needs.

"They want to go into the election with a surplus, and they want to lower taxes, and they are going to do it on the backs of little kids."