Autism tutor pushing for higher pay, training requirements – Prince Edward Island

A woman who provides support to children with special needs at a Prince Edward Island daycare is pushing government to make changes to her profession, because she feels more education requirements and higher pay would lead to better care. 

Ashley Shoemaker works at the Bright Futures Child Development Centre in Charlottetown, has a diploma, and is qualified to work as a regular early childhood educator there.

That would earn her close to $16 an hour — but as an autism tutor, she makes only $11.75 an hour.

That’s because autism tutors and special needs assistants are not part of the province’s wage grid for early years centres, and also come with no educational requirements at all.

Ashley Shoemaker

Shoemaker says she has been meeting with government officials to make a case for more training requirements and higher pay. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“These are our most vulnerable children,” Shoemaker said.

“We need to have so much knowledge with a neurotypical and an atypical child — but with children that don’t have the same skill sets, and need to be able to be trained, and develop their learning, which is a long process, there’s no training requirement.”

Shoemaker spends her day helping and teaching a four-year-old girl with autism.

She said that reflecting on how far the girl has come over the past year, made her realize how crucial her job as an autism tutor is. 

Leaving for another job

In the fall however, Shoemaker will reluctantly give up this job and become a regular early childhood educator at the same centre.

“I have to now step back from working with children in special needs come September, because I can make $4.01 and hour more as an ECE,” she explained.

‘We’re not accepting this anymore’ — Ashley Shoemaker

“It did come to the point where I had to decide between my family and my passion of working with children with special needs and autism.”

Shoemaker said she has been meeting with government officials to make a case for more training requirements and higher pay.

“We’re not accepting this anymore,” Shoemaker said.

“We need to make sure all our children are getting this care we’re taking so much credit for.  Our early childhood system is great, but we’re forgetting about our most vulnerable children and the care they deserve as well.”

Province says it’s exploring issue

In a statement to CBC, the province said that there are roughly 200 children with special needs getting support at Island child care centres.

Lynn Arsenault

Lynn Arsenault says it’s a challenge finding a good autism tutor. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

It explained that more tutors and assistants were recently hired to support 23 more children, and that there’s currently no waiting list for special needs care. 

But Shoemaker’s boss, Lynn Arsenault, says that’s not the point. 

She said it’s one thing to find an autism tutor, but a different challenge altogether to find a good one.

“If you’re just looking for a warm body, and a heartbeat to shadow a child and walk around with them and make sure they’re safe, it’s not as hard,” she said.

“If you’re looking for someone with experience, and that’s an educator and that’s willing to make the commitment and the time, it’s extremely difficult, nearly impossible.”

A government spokesperson said this is an issue that the province is exploring, but so far, there have been no commitments to change anything.