Father's hope of life-altering treatment for son dashed in anticipation of travel ban
EDMONTON -- An Ottawa-area father’s hope of seeking a life-altering treatment for his son in the U.S. has been dashed in light of the news that the government is considering new measures that would ‘significantly impede’ Canadians' ability to return to the country due to COVID-19.
Malcolm Watson, whose son suffers from an extreme case of selective mutism, is temporarily abandoning his plan to seek treatment at a world-renowned treatment centre in Pennsylvania over concerns his son’s condition wouldn’t fall under the parameters of essential travel.
“We just don’t know where else to turn. I am still researching options in Ontario, still doing everything I can. But more and more our options are dwindling,” Watson told CTVNews.ca by phone Sunday.
“More people are saying we just simply don’t know how else to help him.”
Selective mutism is classified as an anxiety disorder where a child does not speak in some situations, but speaks comfortably in others. Watson’s son, who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, speaks at home, but doesn’t speak at all in public.
He’s been receiving treatment for several years, predominately at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). But after several specialists warned that he was at serious risk for depression and suicide, Watson began researching additional treatment.
“He’s had fantastic care so far, I have no complaints, right down to the Ottawa District School Board… but it’s getting to a point where he’s turning 13 this year and he still doesn’t speak one word outside of the home,” Watson explained, noting his son’s increased risk of suicide is his driving force.
“Selective mutism is not fatal. But as the child gets older and they don’t speak, it becomes more mentally challenging for them. It’s driving me to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on treatment in the U.S.”
Weeks ago, Watson secured treatment with world renowned expert Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, at the Selective Mutism Anxiety Research and Treatment Centre in Pennsylvania. After weighing the risks and calculating a quarantine window, he decided to make the arrangements, even contacting U.S. customs to ensure their passage.
“Up until about noon on Friday I was ready to go… I said to my son, for your benefit, I would hop on a plane immediately,” he said.
But shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that his government was considering new measures that could force non-essential travellers to quarantine in a hotel -- at their expense and under police surveillance -- he made the heartbreaking decision to cancel the trip.
“I have to wait. I have to do the right thing. Even though in my mind, the right thing is to get help for my son immediately,” Watson said.
“I’m not clear in my mind if we can in fact just pick up and come home [if we go].”
Currently, it’s up to individuals to decide whether or not their trip is truly essential.
Global Affairs Canada previously told CTVNews.ca that the decision to travel is “the sole responsibility of the individual.” The agency also pointed to its online guidance, which states: “It is up to you to decide what ‘non-essential travel’ means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.”
Where medical travel falls under that definition is unclear.
Watson notes that he agrees with suggestions that tighter travel restrictions are needed to curb the spread of COVID-19, adding that the pandemic has greatly constricted the kind of therapy his son can receive, especially as Ontario endures another lockdown.
“Seeing people leave for Caribbean vacations saying they’re going to go no matter what really bothers me,” he said, adding that he’d like to see essential travel for medical reasons assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“I don’t think people should be going to the U.S. for unnecessary procedures… but every case needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”