The North is a very vast region, and things are spread out. Most people must travel great distances for any sort of service or supports. Even when a family receives a diagnosis, there are very few service providers unless the child is under six and receiving rotational early intervention through the Northern Health Early Intervention Team for under age 3, and Supported Child Development for age 3-6. Most families are not receiving any private intervention or able to spending their autism funding. Families mostly often access supports through their schools. For many First Nations, moving off Reserve is a choice they decide to put their child’s needs above their own, but that means potentially giving up their community, their culture, their connection to their land. It shouldn’t have to be a choice, but unfortunately, that is the case for many families with children who have high support needs. Sharon shares her insight.
Thank you for asking this question! I often receive questions on how to access assessments within Northern BC and if there are clinicians who do assessments for children. Currently in Northern BC, there are publicly funded assessments available through the Northern Health Assessment Network (NHAN) which is part of Northern Health Authority (NH).
The wait time for autism assessments in the North is about two years (or more) and typically takes place in Prince George at the NHAN office. NHAN does 2 outreach clinics a year in the Northwest and 2 in the Northeast. These clinic assessments often occur at CDCs or other NH locations. CDCs have also successfully applied for grants to fund an autism clinic with a private assessor at their building. For most families, the assessment requires them to travel, which can be a challenge as the North is a vast region.
For public travel options, you can utilize the Northern Health Connections Bus which is accessible along the Highway 16 corridor.
For those in remote communities, there are additional options for access to service:
Travel alternatives | NH Connections
Referral for an autism assessment does not need to only come from a Pediatrician; a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), General Practitioner (GP), Nurse Practitioner (NP), Psychologist, can all make a referral using this form.
Some Northern Health Early Intervention (EI) staff have rotational work in Indigenous communities such as Kitkatla (Gitxaala), Hartley Bay (Gitga’at), Port Simpson (Lax-Kw’alaams), Haida Gwaii, and beyond. If you are accessing services through Northern Health, my first recommendation is to discuss an autism assessment with your NH EI Team.
Sometimes a recommendation for an autism assessment will come from your school-based team. If this is the case, it’s important that the school shares as much detailed and documented information as they can to the referring Physician, SLP or NP.
While you are receiving supports for under six through Northern Health an SLP/OT, an Infant Development Program/ Aboriginal Infant Development Program (IDP/AIDP), Supported Child Development (SCD)/ Aboriginal Supported Child Development (ASCD), or even and Ministry of Child & Family Development (MCFD), you can potentially access additional services and supports, and expedite your autism assessment through these routes:
Additional assessment funding and access are through Jordan’s Principle for those that are Indigenous whether living on or off the reserve.
- “Jordan’s Principle makes sure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services and supports they need, when they need them. Funding can help with a wide range of health, social, and educational needs, including the unique needs that First Nations Two-Spirit and LGBTQQIA children and youth and those with disabilities may have. Jordan’s Principle is named in memory of Jordan River Anderson. He was a young boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba” (Jordan’s Principle, n.d.).
- To learn more about accessing Jordan’s Principle Funding for autism assessments, please contact 1-855-JP-CHILD to find out who is the local Service Coordinator in your community. In spring of 2021, new Service Coordinators were added to many communities to facilitate easier access to JP funding.
VarietyBC has announced they will be covering the cost of private assessments in BC. Income requirements are less than $75,000K net family income and does not cover travel, food or lodging.
- Travel can be one of the biggest barriers to receiving an autism assessment as most families either wait the 2+ years for a NHAN assessment or go private and travel to the Interior or Lower Mainland on their own funds.
In the past, Jordan’s Principle funds were used to send families to city centres for assessments; however, I have recently learned that the goal in hiring JP Service Coordinators throughout BC is to bring supports and services to local communities rather than making families travel, as they are aware it is very difficult and costly for families.
Additionally, the only private Clinician in Northern BC is Dr Liz Rocha, and her clinic is Bridge PG located in Prince George.
If these additional costs are barriers to receiving a private assessment, we recommend families approach charity programs like Lions, Rotary, Kyle’s Kindness, etc.
For First Nation families needing assistance with travel related costs to an MSP publicly funded autism assessment, their travel benefits are available whether you live on or off reserve.
The First Nation Health Authority (FNHA) offers a medical travel benefit program that is available through your local Band Office or organizations such as the Prince Rupert Aboriginal Community Services Society
This medical travel benefit program covers the following:
Aides with the cost of meals, accommodation and transportation to help you travel to a medical appointment outside your community of residence. FNHA Medical Travel coverage is intended as a supplement and may not cover the full cost of your travel.
You can access medical transportation benefits if you are traveling to:
- medical services covered by MSP or a public health agency
- services covered by the Health Benefits Program (eg, dental, vision, etc)
- treatment at a NNADAP funded or referred facility.
The FNHA Medical Travel benefits covers travel to the closest appropriate provider, using the most efficient and economical type of transportation appropriate for your needs and medical condition. (pracss.org, 2017)
First Nations Health Authority medical transportation benefits are available to all eligible First Nations clients living in BC who are not covered through a Contribution Agreement with First Nations and Inuit Health. To reach the First Nations Health Authority Regional office, please call 1-800-317-7878.
PRACSS administers patient travel for the communities listed below. Call 1-888-624-5504 or our patient travel administration number at 250-624-4646 for information and assistance.
Off-Reserve Patient Travel
We also administer patient travel from our Prince Rupert location for clients whose communities do not administer off-reserve FNHA patient travel. To make arrangements, you may reach us toll free at 1-888-624-5504. Please note that the Nisga’a Nation administers medical travel for its members.” (pracss.org, 2017)
For publicly-funded MSP assessments charities like HopeAir, Friends of Children, Kyle’s Kindness may be able to help if families with travel costs if they do not qualify for FNHA Travel Benefits Program.
Attending our live Waiting for Assessment workshop would be beneficial to learn the steps involved in waiting for and receiving an assessment.
If you would like a list of all the private Clinicians in BC who do child autism assessments or have any further questions on how to access an assessment, please contact me here.
Our team receives many questions from the autism community each week and we strive to support each and every one of them by empowering them with knowledge and our lived experiences. You can reach out to our team here at any time if you have questions or concerns, or if you simply need some guidance and support.
At AutismBC, we support people on the autism spectrum from diagnosis into adult years. Recently, we have received an increase in calls for support from adults who would like to receive an autism diagnosis; however, adult assessments are not publicly funded in BC. This lack of access creates an additional barrier to entry for many individuals. To combat the lack of publicly funded services for autistic adults, we have created programming, including Getting Together on the Spectrum, to encourage a strong sense of community between self and medically diagnosed adults. We hope to see an increase in the number of service providers in the North to better support our members and their families and will continue to support as many people as possible, regardless of their physical location.
Today in B.C. 1 in 40 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis and there are approximately 60,000 children, youth, and adults on the spectrum. When you buy a raffle ticket from the AutismBC Raffle, you are supporting autistic adults, children, and their families and friends!