Ontario overhauls autism program to attempt to eliminate wait list

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TORONTO — Ontario is overhauling its autism program, giving funding for treatment directly to families instead of regional service providers as the government attempts to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children.

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced today that families would get funding until their child turns 18.

She says the amount of funding will depend on the length of time a child will be in the program, and support will be targeted to lower- and middle-income families.

MacLeod says a child entering the program at age two would be eligible to receive up to $140,000 for treatment, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55,000.

She says families on the waiting list can expect to receive funding within the next 18 months.

The government is also doubling the funding for five diagnostic hubs to $5.5 million a year for the next two years to address the diagnosis waiting list of 2,400 children, who currently wait on average for 31 weeks.

“Today, almost three out of every four children who require autism supports continue to be stranded on waitlists, due the cynicism and incompetence of the previous government,” MacLeod said.

“The parents of these children have told me they are feeling abandoned. We cannot, in good conscience, continue treating these parents and children like lower-class citizens, so we are introducing reforms to provide them with the fairness and equality they deserve.”

Parents of children with autism launched protests against the previous Liberal government in the spring of 2016 when it announced that kids over four would be cut off from funding for intensive therapy.

The province was to do away with the distinctions between Intensive Behavioural Intervention and Applied Behaviour Analysis and blend them into a service that would tailor the intensity of therapy to a child’s individual needs.

That program was not due to roll out for two years and in the meantime the government said it would stop funding IBI for kids over four, giving families of kids removed from the IBI wait list money that would have paid for, at most, a few months of therapy.

The Liberals ultimately backed down on the changes, with then-Premier Kathleen Wynne shuffling the minister out of the role and installing a new minister to roll out their new program, which proved to be much more popular with parents.

New minister Michael Coteau announced more funding, a quicker start date, no age cut-offs, and a direct funding option to allow parents to either receive funding to pay for private therapy or use government-funded services.

Wednesday’s changes announced by the Progressive Conservative government include establishing a new agency to help families register for the program, asses their funding eligibility, distribute the money and help them choose which services to purchase.

Clinical supervisors will have to meet program qualifications by April 1, 2021 and the government will be publishing a list of verified service providers.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press