TORONTO — Ontario is putting more than $62 million in its autism budget this year to make services more available, as the province works to shore up its delayed revamp of the program.
The government is expected to announce this afternoon that the money will go toward initiatives such as grants for service providers to hire new clinical staff, increase hours for existing staff, and travel to serve kids in rural or remote communities.
Families and providers have said that there has been a diminished capacity over the past two years – with less service able to be offered even as the wait list grows.
The government tried to roll out a new autism program in February 2019, but scrapped it after it sparked outrage among parents because it capped funding at amounts families said would be too small for many, and made it based on age rather than needs.
After that plan failed, the government pledged to launch a new autism services program in April 2020 but announced in late 2019 that it would instead be phased in over two years.
This spring the government started enrolling children in core services, with about 470 now participating.
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the capacity announcement is an example of how the government is working to transform the program.
“Expanding the workforce will further support the delivery of core clinical services under the new needs-based program, ensuring families can work with a clinician of their choice to develop a treatment plan based on their child’s individual needs and goals,” she said in a statement.
The announcement is part of the annual $600-million budget for the program, which was doubled following the 2019 controversy.
It also includes more training for service providers, including on Indigenous cultural competency and mental health. As well, it will include funding for pilot projects to add more service in the north.
The government said it is moving forward on its plan to regulate applied behaviour analysis as a separate profession, and is expanding the autism program provider list to include speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press