Film explores the lack of Autism services for Indigenous children in SK
- EFN Staff | November 27, 2017
I recently graduated from the University of Regina with a Master’s Degree in Journalism. I dedicated my year-long studies on researching extensively about autism in First Nations and rural communities here in Saskatchewan, which resulted in a 24-minute documentary called Falling Between the Cracks.
The methodologies I used in my research were qualitative interviews, participatory observation by visiting the two rural communities, data and document analysis. During this phase, I discovered there was hardly any research conducted on this topic in Canada which made it difficult to provide any context to this issue. Without any research, I couldn’t determine the number of Indigenous people who have autism in Saskatchewan or in Canada.
The documentary focused on three Indigenous families with autism; one living in a rural town, one living on-reserve and the other living in an urban area. I’m passionate about this issue because I’m a mother to an 8-year-old daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She was diagnosed when she was three-years-old. It didn’t take long for my daughter Sharlize to receive a diagnosis. Immediately she started to receive services and supports in Regina. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the two other characters in my film.
I discovered in remote towns and on isolated reserves across Saskatchewan, Indigenous families struggle to raise autistic children without the proper resources and services. Some of these families have fear instilled within them for their child’s future. Many children remain undiagnosed due to long wait lists and the consequences are severe. The pressure is intense to find help. There is limited assistance in sight.
The lack of services causes severe problems for children such as a delay in the official diagnosis and in the child’s development. Without an official diagnosis, proper supports for the child cannot be given.
The purpose of this documentary is to investigate the disparity between rural and urban support for autistic children and to explore the consequences on the affected families by chronicling the lives of three Indigenous mothers and to show the struggles of raising a child with autism.
Twyla McNabb and her son Dru live on the George Gordon First Nation. They receive minimal services and the down fall for this family is that they have to travel out of their reserve to Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle to access the supports that Dru needs. Janean and Phoenix Gamble live in Duck Lake, a rural town less than an hour north of Saskatoon. This family received no services at all – no autism interventionist, no occupational therapist and no respite services. The urban family in this documentary is my daughter Sharlize and myself.
During production, my main hope was to hold the government accountable. But one of the challenges I faced was getting the provincial Minister of Health to answer my question of why there is a lack of funding for families living on-reserve and in rural communities.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Health commented instead but didn’t provide much of an answer. In my documentary, I also interviewed the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron to speak on this issue.
In my research, I came across a government document from the Parliament of Canada that showed how much dollars each province receives for autism funding. According to the 2006 report, autistic children in Alberta received $40,000 a year per child for a wide variety of supports. In Saskatchewan, a child with autism received $25,000 a year with limited services.
My biggest finding was realizing there is still not enough being done for families with autism. The two Indigenous children in my documentary amongst many others will continue to fall between the cracks if the services and resources aren’t delivered. After I was done filming when I made my way back to Regina from Duck Lake and George Gordon First Nation, I couldn’t help but wonder what Dru and Phoenix’s future looked like without receiving the proper supports and services.
I hope this documentary engages a much-needed dialogue on this issue and to provide an understanding on what it’s like parenting a child with autism who receives little to no support compared to families who have the services. Living on-reserve, in rural or urban centres, all Indigenous children with autism deserve the same equal supports.