Monday, 2 May 2011

Choosing The Right School Division For Your Child With Autism

In the city of Winnipeg, there are 6 school divisions, and I've come to learn that they don't all operate in the same way.  Each school division is given money from the government to disperse at their own discretion.

I didn't know this almost two years ago when I moved from the Louis Riel school division to St. James.  Even if I had known this, chances are I would still have moved to St. James, as this was the only place I could find housing.  Housing availability right now for renters is at 0%.  You can not purchase a decent home for under $250,000 anymore, and they are few and far between.  Moving into a new school division is impossible right now. 

Our current government in Manitoba is not allowing parents a choice in educating our children.  This is not only the province of Manitoba that is binding our hands behind our back, most provinces in Canada are dealing with the same thing.  Take for example this case in B.C, where a six year old child has been kicked out of school because of the danger posed by the six year old autistic boy.  "No one referenced in the article speaks of the need to have teachers and aides with autism specific training working with autistic school children."  Seeing as how 1 in 150 children (although I believe it's closer to 1 in 100, that's one percent of our children!!!) are being diagnosed with some form of autism, it seems none of the provincial governments in charge of education think it important to train their staff when it comes to autism to successfully "include" our children and mainstream them in public schools.  And yet, the provincial government's policy of inclusion prevents parents to seek other alternatives.  As parents, we have no choice but to send our children to these public schools, where our children are misunderstood and viewed as difficult or defiant on a daily basis.  Staff firmly believe that at the core of the problem is our parenting, rather than viewing autism as a neurological disorder, unless of course the child has classic, low functioning autism.  It seems the only province in all of Canada that recognizes autism for what it is, is Alberta, which allows for schools designed for children with special needs, such as Renfrew school, charter schools in Calgary and school of choice in the city of Edmonton.  I will give more information on charter schools and school of choice soon.  They deserve a post of their very own ;)

So I did some homework I'm sharing with you today.  How nice of me, eh?

I've called all six of Winnipeg's school divisions, and they all agree that level 3 funding (meaning your child has a full time aid and they are allowed to be autistic all day long) helps in getting services in the school division for your child.  In saying this, you must not only move to their school division, but also live in the catchment area of the school you feel would be the best fit.  In other words, Winnipeg is not autism friendly.  You may only have autism if you live in a certain are of the city, namely school division 1, which has schools that offer autism programs and adaptive skill programs (aka life skills programs) in their schools.

Some interesting information...

I've posted my email to the premier on the blog.  I've talked to our MLA...  they contacted Manitoba Education on my behalf.  I get a call from a Marlene Gregory from Manitoba Education, who tells me that I should fill out a "school of choice form" and have it submitted by May 15th...
I contacted Winnipeg School division right away, based on my research, it seemed the best thing to do.  Barb Ivans informed me that they don't accept these applications for children with special needs.  I call Marlene Gregory back sobbing...  "They, they, they won't take my baby..."
"Well Lou, the school division has the right to deny you...  Call the rest of the school divisions, there are lots of autism programs out there in other divisions..."
And so I did...  Did she seriously think she could get rid of me so easily?  
Here is the break down of services offered by Winnipeg school divisions:

St. James School Division:  (this is the school division my family lives in)
There is only one Occupational Therapist in this school division, who works part time and is spread thin across 26 schools!!!  Unbelievable!  No wonder Dayton is falling through the cracks!!!  The school division has eight speech therapists, and speaking to one of them today, I found out she had seen Dayton ten times since September.  I don't understand...  Not only did the school not tell me Dayton was being seen by a speech therapist, but they keep telling me that they don't need my help because they are the "professionals."  Also important to note, this school division does not require their educational assistants to have a para educator diploma or any post secondary education related to the field.  They do offer a para educator program of their own for $7,000.00 and the program lasts 6 months, however it is not mandatory to take the program in order to become someones child's aid.  Teacher assistants that take this program will only "touch" on autism briefly during the program.  Isn't that FANTASTIC?!  (Yes, I'm dripping with sarcasm).  School division's phone number is 885-1334, contact person is Candice Borger.  Candice was awesome on the phone, knew her school division inside out, and was very concerned about Dayton's school experience.  Kristi Benwa, the speech therapist, also was very concerned, and was more than happy to talk to me about my ideas for Dayton's education and what works for me at home.  I just wish his school was just as open to ideas...  Also, I wish they had stronger programming.  This school division has no autism programs or adaptive skill programs.

Pembina Trails School Division:
There are 33 schools that make up this school division.  They have 8 Speech Therapists and 4 Occupational Therapists, all working full time.  The para educators (your child's aid) have two years training in something called Rehab Assistance Program.  This program is designed to help aids to follow Occupational Therapy programs!!!  This kind of makes me giddy!  Sounds really good, but I wonder if it's as good as it sounds.  Jane Freesen (the director of Clinical Services) was very professional on the phone and answered my questions well, and made me feel like I wasn't wasting her time.  I was really impressed with her ease of navigating through her school division like a pro.  She didn't seem to hide anything, and didn't give me any run arounds like most of the school divisions.  Unfortunately, this school division has no autism program or adaptive skill programs for elementary school children until they hit middle school...  School divisions phone number is 488-1757.

River East Transcona School Division:
Mary explained to me that the school division consists of 42 schools.  The school division has five Occupational Therapists, some working full time, some part time.  They have 8 Speech Therapists, and each therapist services six to seven schools.  These therapists do not work one on one with children, they observe and make recommendations.  The children are observed once every four to six weeks.  The para educators do not require training, and can be hired off the street.  Education is not mandatory to be a child's aid.  There are no autism programs or adaptive skill programs in the school division.  Mary was not interested in talking to me, and made me feel like I was pulling teeth for information...  The division's phone number is 222-9577.

Louis Riel School Division:
One of my favorite bloggers (Welcome to normal, population 0 at and fellow autism mom had her son enrolled in a school within this division, and each year she tries to put her son back in school, she yanks him out and home schools her children.  My son was also in one of their schools and was locked in a closet size room with the lights turned off and no one could find the keys to the room...  Numerous suspensions and numerous physical restraints until the day the staff bruised Dayton's face from his ear to his jaw.  Knowing this, I still did the research...  You can decide for yourself if this is the school division for you.  Who knows, maybe they've changed since we last lived in their school division...
Speaking to Lora Molgat, I learned the school division has an autism support teacher, who has her own para educator that goes around and teaches other para educators on autism, compliments no doubt of my autism mom friend who is a strong advocate for her son.  This mom has spent countless hours of time advocating and advocating and advocating some more.  Yes, I respect this autism mom very dearly...
The division is in charge of forty schools, with four Occupational Therapists and between ten and twelve Speech Therapists.  The division has some adaptive skill programs (Lora wouldn't name them or tell me how many), which are reserved for children with severe autism.  They do not have any autism programs, and their para educators have five to seven years experience.  Some of the para educators have their para educator diploma from Red River College, some don't.  Their phone number is 257-7827.

Seven Oaks School Division:
Sharon Holderson is the division's Director of Education and Clinical Support Services (ECSS).  The division has twenty-one schools, with four Occupational Therapists (two working full time, the other two work part time), six Speech Therapists (four of them work full time, the other two part time) and three Physio Therapists (I was shocked to find out they had Physio Therapists and forgot to ask if they worked full time, sorry).  Some para educators have their diploma some don't.  The division is moving away from para educators working one on one with children, which I'm not particularly fond of.  All para educators have to take a course in Non Violent Crisis Intervention.  While this school division has autism programs for middle schools, they have none for elementary schools (what happened to early intervention???)  They have no adaptive skill programs.  Their phone number (ECSS) is 582-3383 and the school division's number is 586-8061.

And finally...

Winnipeg School Division (aka school division one):
This is Winnipeg's largest school division, in charge of seventy-seven schools.  I spoke to Barb Ivans, the special needs coordinator, and Julie Miller, a student support services worker.  They weren't able to give me the number of Occupational Therapists.  They have thirty-five Speech Therapists, eighty percent are working full time.  To work as a para educator in the school division, all you need is your grade twelve diploma.  Some aids have their para educator diploma, some don't.  Their starting wage for level A (meaning the aid does not work one on one, but is a teacher's helper) is $14.69.  Level C and D means the aid is working one on one and they make over $18.00 an hour.
Adaptive skill program school:  Prairie Rose, Woolsley, Lord Roberts, Norquay, Inkster and Greenway.
Schools offering autism programs:  Robertson, Greenway, Inkster and Montrose.
Winnipeg school division number is 775-0231
Student support services (Julie Miller) number is 788-0203
Barb Ivans' (special needs coordinator) number is 774-4525 (this is the one that made me cry)
Oh, and by the way, Barb Ivans informed me that even if I moved to Winnipeg School Division, their autism programs and adaptive skill programs are...  FULL!!!


So, ummmmm, what's the point of this application?!

I'm sorry...  WHAT?!  For those of you that are perturbed along with me, you can reach Marlene Gregory of Manitoba Education who sent me on this freaking wild goose chase for NOTHING at 945-5563

Marlene, if you're reading this post, you can bet I'll be banging on your door for some answers.  For those that wish to join me, here's her office address:  Room 307, 1181 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg R3G 0T3

And for the record Marlene, you can't get rid of me.  

My friends, consider yourselves hugged.
Marlene, no hugs for you.  Maybe a foot up the...  nah, you're so not worth it.



  1. I'm in Pembina Trails, although our division sounds great and perfect. I assure it's NOT.Pembina trails was the reason we left Winnipeg, sadly though rural division sucked to and now we're SADLY back.

    me n u have gone over this time n time again, the system sucks and they need to review it.

  2. I know hon... We've got a big problem on our hands. I guess the point of this post is that there is NO right school division in Winnipeg. Things need to change. There should be no reason for parents to be forced to go bankrupt and home school their children.

  3. I am in LRSD and I have to say, I LOVE our school. You do really have to be specific with schools as not all schools are created equal even within a division. and certianly not all TEACHERS are created equal either. HAving the right teacher is the key to our children's success no matter where they go to school.

    I do however agree that there should be more funding for children with special needs and that we shouldn't have to look to private schools for our children.

  4. Hey Bridy,

    I'm sorry if my comments on LRSD offended you... I really am. And you're absolutely right, the right teacher and right school is vital to having our kids learn. Trust me, I would have loved to name the school that hurt my baby, but I don't think it's ethical for me to do so. I would love to hear which schools in LRSD have the fantastic teachers that care about our little ones!!! Parents need to know which school are fantastic. Living in St. James, I'm continually being told that all of their schools are fantastic, but this sadly is not the case. I've had many parents from your school division ask me which schools I would recommend in your division (well, all of the divisions), so any insight you have would be very, very much appreciated for these parents for me to email back. So please... share the schools that you know of would be beneficial for parents to enroll their children in before they take the drastic measures of declaring bankrupcy in order to home school their children. Please help these parents!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to address these parents!!!


  5. My son is 8 and has aspergers syndrome. I'm in school division #1. Faraday school would not give Cole a teachers aide so they applied for him to attend a LAC program at Issac Brock. Well, its for children with behavioural problems that need correcting. I was told he can not be in the autism classrooms, and can not have a teachers aide. So they placed him here in grade 1. He is now in grade 3 and all academic work is at a mid kindergarten level. They place him in the quiet room almost daily for up to 2 hours at a time. This room is like a closet, with no light and no handle inside to get out. And they let him throw himself at the walls and bang his head untill im called to come and get him. He is punished every day for aspie behaviours he can not help. I tried calling the special ed and got barb ivans number and honestly i don't know what my next move is. The school wants him on medication, which i will not put him on again. they will not bend in any way or listen to me. LAC does not benefit him at all. What do i try now?

  6. Melissa,

    I am so very sorry to hear what's happening to your little guy... I've experienced having Dayton shut away in a closet, so know that I can definitely relate my dear.

    I have spoken to Barb Ivans before, and she is a very nice person. I'm sure she'll listen to all of your concerns.

    I don't know your whole history with the school, so please forgive me if I sound like a broken record, or if you've already been told to do what I'm about to tell you...

    The first step is to talk to your school's principal. If you are not satisfied, you have to contact your school division's special needs coordinator (in your case that's Barb Ivans, so you're on the right track). If you're still not happy with what you get from her, you should write a formal complaint letter to the school division's superintendent and cc it to the principal and Barb Ivans. This letter should be emailed and you should keep a copy for yourself. Along with mailing it, I would also email it and fax it. There's no way they can claim that they didn't receive your mail then. In this letter I would state a date you expect a call from the superintendant, or else you will take the matter to Manitoba Education. If you're still not happy with the super, then you have to mail and email Manitoba Education and cc the superintendent, Barb Ivans, and the principal.

    Something else you can do while waiting for all of this (I know time drags on, and it takes forever) is call Brent Epp at 945-6885. Brent is the Autism Consultant for Manitoba Education. Tell him everything that's happening and your concern for your child and his safety.

    If you need an ear, feel free to give me a shout on my cell 771-4546. You can also email me at

    Hang in there Melissa, and consider yourself hugged!!!


  7. Hi Lou,
    If you had your pick of any school in Winnipeg, which would it be? Our family is possibly moving to Winnipeg from Ottawa, which means we could buy a house in the right area for the best school.

    Our 6 year old has ASD & GDD and currently has a full time EA at school.


  8. Has there been any change in the school system since 2011

  9. Krista how did everything work out in the school system in Manitoba

  10. Not much of anything changes in MB. We're the last to get on board with changes. I've found Seven Oaks to be fantastic, but we're new here, so time will tell. As Dayton gets more comfortable, his behavior comes out much more easily.

  11. I live in Winnipeg school division and both of my kids were recently diagnosed with ASD. I have to say the treatment kids get definitely depends on the school. They were both a LaVerendrye and when issues came up that school couldn't get rid of my kids fast enough. The slimeball principal didn't even call me to find out what happened. His name is Vince Audino. Run far and fast from that school if your child is anything but perfect. We became scholastic refugees and landed ashore Rockwood school. Mr. Belton is the principal there and he has been SO so wonderful in identifying issues and actually caring, finding solutions to help my kids integrate and function. He even cares about us parents and how we are coping with everything that happens. This was all even before diagnosis when my little guy was going all "Hulk Smash!!" over little things in class. If it wasn't for Rockwood school I would probably be floundering at home, trying to homeschool not knowing that my kids have autism. Because of Rockwood school, we have answers and there is help.

  12. Hi!

    I enjoyed reading this because I can relate. We need to advocate for our children. I have a child on the spectrum. Before he was diagnosed he was placed in a room and locked in there until I came to pick him up. He was also kicked out of a daycare facility and they had the audicity to take me to small claims court for the 2 weeks he wasn't there when they told me to keep him home! Their excuse was in both scenarios was that they were afraid for the safety of their staff. Really? Afraid of 4/5 year old?!
    I am finally in a good place. We live in Portage la Prairie now. The staff at Crescentview School have been amazing.

  13. Hi Lou. I am a parent of a 13 month old with high risk features of autism and I am thinking of moving to winnipeg in the next few months. Is it possible for me to contact u by phone or email as we had few queries and wanted some guidance about the therapies at Winnipeg ?

  14. Hi, we're moving to Winnipeg in August I have a 9 yr old daughter going into grade 3 who is on the spectrum and has a reading impairment. I'm going to be starting the process of looking at schools before we decide where to live. Any advice on where I should start?

    1. Please check out my reply to Bridget.

  15. ‎I have a 6year old son diagnosed with ASD in india 2years ago.. I was told he had cerebral palsy while he was little in Nigeria, he has had a lot of challenges from birth(jaundice, cataract on both eyes, ear impairment) with the help of therapy and surgeries he is physically ok no deformity... though he is mentally delayed and very hyperactive, he isn't going to school anymore because of bullying and constantly being lockedup in a room because of his restlessness and he is on IOL(intra ocular lens).  I am afraid they might hit his eyes.
    We are moving to Winnipeg soon and I will like a good school for him, I recently just gained admission into Uwinnipeg to study disability studies ‎January 2017.
    Please how do I go about his schooling‎? I really need help.

    Email - 
    IG- brigimore
    ‎FB- Bridget Blankson Adekeye

  16. The government is launching a new program along the lines of block funding in the Luis Riel school division... This may be worth looking into it as when Seven Oaks had this program, it was incredibly easy to get help where needed. As much as I didn't care about Luis Riel School Division in the past, this block funding program is going to be awesome.

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