Ontario labour strife hurting special needs kids: Mom

Diane Graham with her autistic son Atreyeu Graham, and Zandralee Graham January 3, 2013.



TORONTO - The mother of an eight-year-old autistic Toronto boy says labour action is impacting special needs children.

Diane Graham says a key meeting to help support her son Atreyeu was cancelled on orders from the union, despite pledges their job action wouldn't adversely impact kids with special needs.

A letter from Gracefield Public School's principal confirms that the union pulled the plug on the Dec. 11 session, ordering their members, school support workers, not to attend.

"I was really discouraged about this," Graham said. "This was an opportunity for them to learn about my child so they can meet his needs. I felt very deflated. This isn't an extracurricular activity, this is his life."

The intent was to draw up a plan to help Atreyeu who had been doing well in school.

But with an autism and an ADHD diagnosis, his focus in the classroom has been waning this year.

"With the dual diagnosis there is more to be done with him at school," Graham said.

What she's found even more frustrating is the union claims in the media that special needs students won't be impacted by the labour strife.

"It's affecting Atreyeu, he's going to lose a whole year," she said. "He can't afford to lose a whole year. ... My child is not part of these labour problems and he does not deserve to be put in the middle of it."

She's been a supporter of organized labour for much of her life but this conflict has tested her resolve -- her son has to come first, Graham said.

"I don't blame the (workers), they have to do what their union says," she said. "I do blame the union because they shouldn't be telling anyone not to attend a meeting that is so important to my child."

Calls and an e-mail message to OSSTF District 12 were not returned by press time.

An official with the Toronto District School Board declined comment citing privacy rules.

Graham said she is not contemplating pulling Atreyeu out of the school in an effort to meet his needs at home. She would rather keep him in the school with his friends with a new plan put together using the evaluation.

"I want them to keep their word," she said. "They said their job action would not affect special education needs children. It is."

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