07/15/2014 04:17 EDT | Updated 09/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Unique preschool for autism intervention in trouble over permit

A private preschool specialized in working with children with autism spectrum disorder may need to close its Montreal West doors over a permit issue.

According to the Little Red Playhouse, it’s a private preschool. But according to the Quebec government, it’s a daycare.

The issue is that Little Red Playhouse has children younger than five years old enrolled.

During a government inspection conducted last week, 17 children were counted as in attendance.

According to Quebec’s family minister, certain conditions need to be met when more than six children are being cared for at a time.

“A permit or equivalent is not only an administrative formality, it’s a procedure the ministry rigorously applies to ensure childcare respects standards of quality,” read a statement issued by the family minister to CBC News on Tuesday.

The family ministry deemed the situation at Little Red Playhouse illegal and said it did not respect certain safety and security rules.

“The ministry cannot tolerate this situation,” the statement read.

No help on getting new permit

What founder Sharon McCarry finds intolerable is the bureaucracy she said she has faced in trying to get the right permit.

“I have been going to them for a number of years asking them for a permit for what it is we actually do,” McCarry told CBC News.

She said she offers the only service in the province that offers more comprehensive integration between children on the autism spectrum and children who are not.

She said that integration is key to making sure children on the spectrum can better adapt to regular elementary schools once they leave Little Red Playhouse.

She said she was told by two sets of inspectors that she would have to get a daycare permit to continue the work she does.

However, McCarry recently discovered that having more than six children with disabilities in a single daycare is also illegal. She called herself a square peg in the Quebec family minister’s round holes.

Improved social skills

Parents of children who attend Little Red Playhouse said the facility is a huge help.

Not all the children who attend this preschool have autism spectrum disorder, but some do — like Kai Cuperman.

“He’s beautiful, smart, very curious, friendly. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was two and a half,” said Kai’s mother, Leetal Cuperman.

Cuperman said a year ago, before Kai was enrolled at Little Red Playhouse, her son was aggressive toward other children and had poor social skills.

Now he’s enrolled in the regular preschool class, which she said teaches the kindergarten curriculum.

Cuperman also works with children with autism spectrum disorder. She said she likes Little Red Playhouse’s approach to teaching and the way that classes are mixed — “there are no typical kids.”

“Thanks to the high-quality intervention that he’s been getting at this school — because of the very highly trained staff… his social skills have really improved a lot,” Cuperman said.

Essential service

Preschool founder McCarry said the approach she and her educators take is unique, adding that they all have Master’s degrees.

She’s frustrated by the government’s lack of willingness to talk to her about her preschool and what can be done to continue providing what she described as essential services to vulnerable children.

“I’m doing a service for these families that you guys don’t do,” she told the government. “These are children that have been kicked out of CPEs, kicked out of kindergarten. I pick up kids that are literally orphaned by the system.”