Kirsti Cyprien’s nine-year-old son is autistic.
During the pandemic she has had to create a new normal at home for her son while schools are closed.
She said that they have has lots of support from his school and that they have been in constant contact with his Educational Assistant (EA).
“I’m actually going to be having a meeting with her to go over what this week’s work lessons are and how they’ve been modified to help him so he can learn them easier.”
For Cyprien it was heartbreaking to learn the provincial government was making budget cuts that would temporarily lay off EAs.
The funding is supposed to be restored when in-person classes resume.
“I’m really hoping that my son is going to be able to maintain being in a typical class. With the funding cuts I’m really not sure what it is going to look for next year in school.”
She said the EAs modify whatever lessons plans the teachers are doing because they know how the student will learn best.
As a mother of three, Cyprien noted that the extra support is very needed.
“I am so thankful for it, it is great. I am really hopeful that these supports that we have in the school will eventually be supports that I will be able to find when he is an adult.”
Her other son also has an EA.
One of the EAs delivers customs lessons plans for the week in a print out that Cyprien said is much different than the online materials provided by the teacher.
“I was feeling quiet overwhelmed…she messaged me today and was like ‘nope I’m going to be stopping by with all the stuff he should be focusing on that will actually build up the skills that he needs,’ and I’m like ‘fantastic,’ that made me feel so much better.”
Her son has also been Face Timing his EA and doing school work.
He is pre-verbal and communicates mostly with hand gestures.
“He’s really good with money, he can tell time with no problem, he’s got so many good qualities about him that would make him a really good employee when he gets older.”
April 2 is recognized as Autism Awareness Day in the RMWB.
For her the day is about trying to get more people to accept autistic behaviours so they don’t look at her son any different.
Her long-term hope is that the community will start to acknowledge autism to the point when her son is an adult, he will be acceptable and normalized so that he can get a job.
“Making Fort McMurray a supportive and acceptable place for our kids when their adults is my main goal right now…I just hope that the community is able to accept him more when he is an adult so he is able to stay in this community.”
Cyprien and her husband are both born and raised in Fort McMurray and are deeply rooted in the community.
She fears that when her son is older they might have to leave.
“I’ve heard lots of people end up leaving the community once they’re out of high school cause the adult supports aren’t really there.”
Her hope is that with the help from the Austism Society of the RMWB and the school system, families like her’s can stay.