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Supporting RCDSB students on the spectrum

By Celina Ip

RCDSB chair Wendy Hewitt and director of education Pino Buffone during the Feb. 27 board meeting.

RCDSB chair Wendy Hewitt and director of education Pino Buffone during the Feb. 27 board meeting.


The RCDSB is equipping schools with the proper supports to assist the growing number of students on the autism spectrum.


According to Autism Speaks Canada, one in 68 children are currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Although everyone with autism has their own strengths and differences, they typically have challenges with social skills, communication — both verbal and nonverbal — and with repetitive behaviour. When teachers and school environments help to meet the needs of children with autism, those children can excel and reach their full potential.

In recent years, the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) has seen a steady increase in the number of students with autism who are attending schools within the district.

During the period of 2009 to 2014, those numbers rose from 86 to 148 students. Thereafter, from 2014 to the present day, the number of students with autism again increased from 152 to 227.

Superintendent Jacqueline Poirier attributed this increase to the staff and teachers’ improved understanding of autism and their improved awareness of the needs that are being presented by students that might be linked to autism.

“The diagnosis of ASD is a medical diagnosis typically made through a pediatrician and as educators our role is to support students with this diagnosis. We are not involved in the diagnosis itself, although we may be aware of signs that we would be able to share with parents and to support them in seeking advice from a medical professional,” said Poirier. “As to the reasons why we are seeing an increase, the members of the SEAC were speculating that it may be in relation to increased awareness of ASD and that this increased awareness may also be assisting in earlier diagnosis.”

To provide better supports to these students, the RCDSB founded a four-year Inclusion Support Assistant (OSA) Pilot Project in 2014.

Poirier shared ow the project has aimed to provide specialized approaches and inclusive support for children on the autism spectrum, so that the students can succeed in a comfortable manner.

“This program has provided ongoing proactive support from the ISA team, small group and class-wide instruction on social skills, formal training and partnerships with community agencies. The five ISAs are divided by family of schools and have developed good relationships with school staff to support the students,” said Poirier.

As the ISA Pilot Project is now in its final year, the RCDSB discussed the overall success and future of the project during their Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meeting on Feb. 21.

“As part of this meeting, our ABA (applied behaviour analysis) Coordinator Rachel McKay, provided an overview of the supports for RCDSB students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She reviewed the changes in services and student needs in addition to providing historical background since she began in 2009,” said Poirier. “Currently, we are in the final year of our four-year Inclusion Support Assistant (ISA) Pilot Project. So we are reviewing some of our practices and getting input from the SEAC as part of that review to decide how we’ll move forward after this year.”


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