CNC in Action: Special Needs

Helping a newcomer family find special needs supports


This is the story of a family who faced many barriers. Thanks to a very committed CNC team, the parents successfully navigated the system and got the help their children needed.

Three months after arriving in Canada from Vietnam, the parents enrolled their 2 ½ years old twins (a boy and a girl) in the CNC program at Somali Immigrant Aid, a small settlement agency in the west end of Toronto. Neither child had any language skills, and the boy was distressed and vomited often.

The staff knew that something was wrong, but didn’t know how to identify the problem. They called CMAS special needs consultant Shanda Burnett, who was able to provide some guidance. The parents, when approached, did not panic, as they also sensed there was an issue. The team worked step-by-step with the parents to get help. The first thing they did was register the children for speech and language supports.

With observation and a good knowledge of children’s settlement, the caregivers were able to identify that the girl was settling into the program and making progress. Her brother, however, continued to struggle with many developmental issues. The team worked with the family doctor to have the boy referred to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. In June, he was put on the waiting list for an assessment, which he received in September. This set everything in motion, including the child beginning Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI)—both teaching methods used to help children with autism learn to their full potential.


Going Above and Beyond for the Family

Not only did the program staff recognize the need for and arrange an assessment, they also helped the family in a remarkable number of other ways. Two integral members of the team were Suleko Ahmed, the CNC Team Lead, and Maritza Martin, a LINC Childminder in the program.

  • Because the family didn’t speak English, Suleko handled all the paperwork for them.
  • Maritza went to all assessment appointments with the parents to make sure they understood everything and didn’t feel overwhelmed.
  • The team made all appointments and phone calls for the parents.
  • When it was time to register the children for school, Maritza also went to those meetings. “We met with the principal and explained the child’s needs, the parents’ needs, and gave suggestions as to what they could do,” she recounts. “The principal said there would be one-on-one support with a resource teacher in the classroom, and that really put the mom at ease.”
  • Program staff worked with the school to arrange for a small bus to provide transportation, as the little boy was afraid of big buses.
  • They started a resource binder for the parents to help keep track of the children’s appointments and files. “The mom had so many appointments coming from all sides. This way she could keep organized,” explains Maritza.
  • The program also helped other parents to understand the situation and to be more accepting.


The Outcome for the Children

The boy’s behaviour improved immensely over his time in the program. While he was still non-verbal, he was no longer agitated or vomiting. He was able to follow routines and make eye contact.

In addition, by the time the children left the CNC program in April, staff made sure the parents and children had everything they needed to ensure a smooth transition to the school system.

The parents were so appreciative of the help they received. As Suleko recalls: “The mom would say thank you a thousand times, but it was our pleasure. We are all parents and we understand her needs and the stress she is feeling.”

Maritza, who took a leading role in helping the family, adds: “After the Bloorview assessment, it was much easier. Gradually, it all fell into place. The family got all the help they needed.”


Supporting the Family to Support the Child

The program used several strategies to gather information and support the family—which, in turn, led to the best possible outcome for the child. First, they contacted CMAS for help. “As ECEs, we have some knowledge in this area, but CMAS really helped us with signs to look for in the child,” says Suleko.

Suleko and Maritza then worked as a team to share the load, provide the parents with comprehensive support, and make sure that nothing got missed. For example, Suleko did the paperwork, while Maritza made a commitment to attend appointments with the family.

Most importantly, however, they worked hard to ensure that the parents felt welcome, and valued as partners in the process. Partly this involved getting to know the parents, but equally important was letting the parents get to know them. As mothers themselves, Suleko and Maritza were able to relate to the parents and to understand the stress they were under. This helped to build trust. “Once parents feel welcome, they can easily come to you and ask for help,” explains Suleko. And when parents and caregivers work together with the child’s best interests at heart, wonderful things can happen.