No help to be found

Hugh Adami

It's amazing how Ralph and Beverly Rinne have been able to cope after so many years, but they, too, have a breaking point.

Their 23-year-old son Royce has an autism-spectrum disorder known as Asperger syndrome. The neurobiological condition involves a number of developmental disabilities. He was only two when he was diagnosed with Asperger's, and has been under the care of various doctors over the years. He has been on numerous medications. Some work. Some don't. Some make his condition worse. He has undergone alternative therapies and counselling, and taken life-skills programs while attending school. His elementary schooling generally went well, says his mother, Beverly, but once he hit high school in his late teens, it all came crashing down.

"All hell broke loose," she says, explaining her son was constantly bullied at one school. He was transferred to a program at another high school, where the Rinnes were told by a teacher that Royce was basically enrolled in a "babysitting service." Says Beverly: "That's not what I want to hear from a teacher."

When Royce turned 21 in December 2007, his parents were told he could not return in January as he was no longer eligible for high school.

Given his age, his boredom and the continuous upheaval in their Constance Bay home, the parents say their son needs to live on his own -- as Royce himself wants. But the social-housing system for people with intellectual disabilities isn't giving the couple much hope. There are 500 such people in Ottawa waiting for accommodation suited to their needs.

Brian Tardif, executive director of Citizen Advocacy, where Royce also gets help, says it is extremely important to find the right living environment for the intellectually disabled. "It's not just about a space."

But two doctors have told the parents that Royce "falls through every crack in the system," says Beverly. "(His condition isn't considered) severe enough to be here, he's too high-functioning for this, (or) he's too high-functioning for that. He's between everything."

Asperger syndrome is characterized by poor social skills, emotional problems, odd mannerisms and repetitive routines. Many people with the syndrome have normal intelligence and language development. Royce has most of these characteristics. His mother says he is a wizard with computers. When he was younger, his friends would always come around with their computer problems.

Ralph says his son, who is often withdrawn, also suffers from anxiety and, at times, seems paranoid. That has raised concerns with his present doctor that he may also be schizophrenic. His parents are meeting with officials at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre on Monday in the hope of having Royce admitted for a four-to-six-week assessment.

Royce also has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Food is among his compulsive obsessions. He is six-foot-two and about 360 pounds -- twice the weight he was 10 years ago. His weight, says his father, only added to the teasing and bullying in high school. He is taking medication to curb his appetite.

His frustration over a lack of friends, boredom and his desire to have his own place have led to violent outbursts. He has put his fist through walls and dented his father's new car. He even attacked his father, a Citizen pressman, on numerous occasions.

Despite the attacks, Royce depends heavily on his devoted father.

"I've become a 24/7 caregiver," says Ralph, who works mostly nights. He prepares many of Royce's meals. Three times a week, Ralph spends a good part of the day hanging around downtown so his son can participate in a program for people with intellectual disabilities. The program, LiveWorkPlay, involves a number of activities for participants, including job training. Royce has been trained as a janitor and has some work experience through the program.

Full article from Ottawa Citizen here

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