October is Community Living Month in B.C., a time of year to recognize those with developmental disabilities and their contributions to the community. This story is part two of a two-part series on the challenges faced by parents of children with autism and how they are treated in the community. See here for part one.
Despite a Chilliwack dentist's refusal to treat 12-yearold Sophia Filiatrault-an experience that led the autistic girl's parents to file a human rights complaint-the incident seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Even in recounting the visit to a dentist whose staff said they could not work with Sophia, parents Bernard Filiatrault and Paulette Weismiller said local businesses are indeed quite accommodating.
Sophia has a number of other conditions, including high anxiety, in addition to her autism that cause challenges when she has experiences out of her normal routine.
But a local hair salon didn't charge the full rate knowing she would have to come multiple times to get her hair cut.
"Most places are like that," Paulette said of the hair salon. "This is the first major incident I have encountered. My doctor is accommodating, bloodwork is accommodating, X-ray is accommodating. It's been wonderful."
Autism on the rise Recent statistics show there are more than 7,000 children and youth in B.C. diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. One study showed that more children are diagnosed with autism each year than juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer combined.
Whether it is because of an increase in cases or in diagnoses, autism is on the rise and everyone needs to get used to accommodating all people with mental health issues.
Julie Unger, director of children's and community development for the Chilliwack Society for Community Living (CSCL), said that's exactly what is happening, particularly here in Chilliwack.
Earlier this year, CSCL and similar organizations in many other communities took part in a broad survey that included questions on independence, social participation and well-being.
Chilliwack outscored the other regions in all eight quality of life domains, including social inclusion and rights.
"The City of Chilliwack should be proud of these results as it reflects very positively on this area's view on inclusion," CSCL executive director Brenda Gillette said in July.
Chatting about inclusion in classrooms, Unger told a story of her daughter who knew a boy with Down's syndrome in her kindergarten class. Unger asked her daughter how she would describe him.
"He has glasses,' she said. "That was the only difference.
For kids today they are growing up in a society where the expectation is that we accept people that act differently, who behave differently," Unger said.
"When you compare classrooms to 20 years ago, certainly there is a big difference."
Another example was when an individual with high anxiety did not want to get out of a vehicle to go into Pacific Eye Doctors in Chilliwack.
Not only did the eye doctor come out to the van to do an eye exam, which took some creativity, follow-up appointments were also done in the parking lot.
"Chilliwack has a really great reputation as an inclusive community," Unger said.
Moving on Parents of children with autism often feel judged by others when they are at the grocery store, the playground or anywhere in public. Sophia's experience with the dentist, Dr. Yoon Yai Choi, while unfortunate, seems to be unusual even for individuals with extreme conditions such as hers.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has accepted the families complaint and has received a response from the dentist in question. They are currently waiting to hear if there will be a negotiated settlement or a hearing. When asked what they want out of the complaint, Sophia's mother said an apology and maybe more training for the staff at the clinic.
Dr. Choi told the Times ,"I did tell them I was sorry I couldn't treat Sophia."
Since the incident, Sophia's parents have found her another dentist who was willing to facilitate her needs, including inviting her to drop by any time just to visit the office and get familiar with the chair until she was ready for an appointment.
"Sophia has since had a full checkup and has had her teeth cleaned over two visits," Bernard said. "She is now scheduled to go back every six months for a checkup and is looking forward to it."
- See here for part one of this two-part series.
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