A new pilot program for the parents of toddlers with autism or suspected autism is a first for Nova Scotia.
The QuickStart program, which involves one-on-one parent-coaching that uses play-based activities to help them develop their child’s communication and social skills, received $2 million in funding from the provincial government Wednesday.
Families with children aged 12 months to three years will be eligible for the four-year pilot program.
“It’s absolutely good news,” Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia in an interview, said of the funding announcement.
“The research is definitely there that the earliest we get in to support children and families, the outcomes are great.”
Carroll emphasized families who have concerns about their child’s developmental progress, as well as those with diagnosed autism, can be assessed for participation in the program “so that’s really a first in Nova Scotia.”
It’s also the first time in the province that the QuickStart approach will be used with children as young as 12 months.
The $2 million in provincial funding will allow Autism Nova Scotia to work with about 35 Halifax-area families in the first year of the pilot and up to 50 annually in the subsequent three years throughout Nova Scotia.
Autism Nova Scotia coaching teams, which include occupational therapists and speech language pathologists, will be supported by the IWK Health Centre, Nova Scotia Health Authority, Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centres and Nova Scotia Early Childhood Development Intervention Services.
“Coaching sessions actually can occur here in our (Halifax) centre and we’re able to do coaching sessions in the community, in the home, other centre bases, it’s designed to be quite flexible,” Carroll said.
The parents will be taught to help their children to use tools such as pointing, eye contact and verbal expression for communication and social interaction.
The Nova Scotia version of QuickStart was adapted from early intervention programs developed in Ottawa and Denver.
“Helping children with autism spectrum disorder early, before they start school, has been proven to have significant benefits on their development,” Health Minister Randy Delorey said in a news release announcing the funding.
The release also noted that nine autism support centres throughout the province, which opened in 2017, helped 5,174 people. The centres are located in Amherst, Halifax, Hebbville, Kingston, New Glasgow, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Truro and Yarmouth.