Ten-year-old Brennen has autism and loves attending the Comox Valley Learning Centre, but his mom Shannon Taylor isn’t sure where he will go after the centre closes. Photo submitted

Ten-year-old Brennen has autism and loves attending the Comox Valley Learning Centre, but his mom Shannon Taylor isn’t sure where he will go after the centre closes. Photo submitted

Comox Valley Learning Centre closure highlights limited options for special needs students

The centre is scheduled to close at the end of the school year if a local board does not come together

Shannon Taylor is dreading September because she no longer knows where her 10-year-old son will go to school.

Taylor’s son Brennen is on the autism spectrum and has been attending the Comox Valley Learning Centre for his schooling. But Taylor and the other parents recently found out the centre would be closing at the end of the school year.

The CVLC is one of the few options for Brennen. He is nonverbal, explains Taylor, but that doesn’t mean he’s quiet.

“He’s probably one of the loudest kids you’ll come across. He hums, he spins a lot, he makes a lot of noise to block out the outside sounds,” says Shannon. “There’s literally no point in me sending him to public school because he would be so disruptive to the other kids in the class.”

When it became time for Brennen to go to school, Taylor chose CVLC because of the one on one opportunities and the mix of individualized academics, social time and recreational activities.

“For him to be able to go there and learn life skills with people who are specifically trained on how to deal with him, it’s a devastating loss. Absolutely devastating,” she said. “He loves going to school. He has his routine. So every morning we get up and I put (on the news) so he knows it’s a school day. When we get up and there’s no (news) on, he knows there’s no school. Every morning of spring break he cried.”

CVLC was opened about five years ago by the Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization (NUKO) as demand grew in the Valley for more schooling options for kids with special needs.

But the centre’s small location prevented growth, and with a maximum number of seven children that could attend the facility, CVLC could barely cover its costs. Earlier this year, management decided to shut it down.

“Here in Nanaimo, we are in a lease to purchase and we would really like to purchase the building we’re in, so financially, it was very difficult for this centre to take on the risk of the other centre,” said NUKO’s executive director, Teresa Nielsen. “The decision was not taken lightly and it was very much hoped that the parents would step forward and create a board.”

The Nanaimo centre is run by a board of parents and community members, but Nielsen says there wasn’t enough interest in creating a board in the Comox Valley when the closure was announced in a recent meeting.

But if enough parents step up, Nielsen says the Nanaimo branch will still offer them support as they get the centre back up and running.

Amanda Flentjar runs the Autism Family Support Group and was one of the parents that helped start a branch of NUKO in the Comox Valley. Her son has been attending CVLC since it opened and is currently finishing Grade 9.

She says when the CVLC originally came to the Valley, the original idea was that it would become self-sustainable over a certain period of time with the help of the students’ parents. But that never happened.

“I don’t think there’s enough parents that can say, yes I can commit to this, yes, I’m in it for the long haul,” she said. “I mean, a lot of us want to contribute here and there when we’re able but we’re very aware that our life changes from day to day and we don’t always have more to give. It’s just really really unfortunate.”

Having been a part of bringing the centre to the Valley, Flentjar knows the importance of CVLC, but she also knows the amount of work involved in running it. She said a board of at least four members is needed to take care of the fundraising and admin work.

Taylor is hoping to find a way to keep CVLC open, starting with getting more parents on board and finding a bigger space where more students can access programming.

“These kids should be able to go and have a social experience and do all the things that regular kids do.”

***

CVLC isn’t the only centre for special needs youth in the Valley, but the options are limited.

Established in 2010, Footholds Therapy Center is another option for children with special needs, offering a variety of support services such as occupational therapy, academic support services tutoring and social groups.

Lynda Hearn, the location’s director, says there is no easy answer to how many children attend the centre as it is constantly changing depending on the needs of each child, but on average, approximately 100 families access their services. There is also often a waitlist to attend the centre, but the length of the waitlist also varies depending on the requested services.

She adds accessing enough funding can be a challenge and it’s something they deal with as well.

“I think that will continue to be an ongoing challenge to have adequate resources to support our unique individuals,” she said. “So one of my responsibilities at Footholds is to do the very best I can with the resources I have and to individualize it for that unique situation. If there were more resources, could we do more? Absolutely.”


jolene.rudisuela@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Charles Hawkswell, Commander, of the Cape Lazo Power and Sail Squadron, presents a $1,000 cheque to the Comox Valley Marine Rescue Society. File photo
Comox removing moorage fees, hydro for Comox Valley Marine Rescue Society

Last year, the unit and society responded to more than 50 rescue missions in the past year

A Saanich man received almost 10 years in Supreme Court in Courtenay for a shooting incident from 2018. Record file photo
Shooting incident north of Courtenay nets almost 10-year sentence

Richard Daniel Vigneault was arrested without incident and faced 16 counts

Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo
Comox Strathcona hospital board wants pathology service back

UPDATED: Board supports move for chair, vice-chair to engage with Island Health on issue

Danielle Egilson has been awarded a $40,000 post-secondary scholarship with The Cmolik Foundation. Photo supplied
Student from Courtenay’s Vanier Secondary lands prestigious scholarship

Cmolik Foundation provides opportunities for youth who’ve experienced adversity

Poverty is a sad reality for some people in the Comox Valley. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Project takes a hard look at poverty in the Comox Valley

Objective is to reduce poverty in the Comox Valley by 25 per cent over four years

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Most Read