Approximately one in 66 Canadian children is diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Studies have proven that intensive early intervention, as young as 18 months, offers the best hope for a positive lifetime outcome.
“ASD is a life-long neurological disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people and the world around them,” explains the Autism Ontario website. “ASD can affect behaviour, social interactions, and one’s ability to communicate verbally. ASD is a spectrum disorder, which means that while all people with ASD will experience certain difficulties, the degree to which each person on the spectrum experiences these challenges will be different. As it is a spectrum with impacts ranging from mild to severe, there are many variables in treatment.”
Autism has been in the news since early February when the Ontario provincial government announced changes to the existing autism funding program in an effort to eliminate a growing waitlist of some 23,000 children on hold for services.
“Starting April 1, 2019, through the Ontario Autism Program, families of children with autism will be provided with timely access to Childhood Budgets so they can purchase the services they value most from the providers of their choice.” reads the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services website. “This will support children to achieve their goals at home, at school, in the community and as they transition into adulthood.”
Many parents of autistic children disagree, as evidenced by recent province-wide protests against the new funding program. The protocol would provide funding directly to families instead of to regional service providers, allowing $20,000 annually until the child turns six, followed by $5,000 per year until the child turns 18. Families can potentially receive a lifetime allowance of $140,000 subject to maximum household income restrictions.
The problem, according to parents, therapists and Autism organizations, is that the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy needed for those on the severe end of the autism spectrum can cost up to $80,000 per year. Many parents simply can't afford to contribute the remainder from their own resources to offer their autistic children the best chance at a successful adult life. A set amount of funding based on age does not address the widely varying treatment requirements of autistic children. The protests are lobbying for funding to be based on individual needs rather than age.
“This new plan is the death of the Ontario autism plan. It’s going to clear the waitlist, but do it by making sure no one gets what they need,” says Laura Kirby-McIntosh, President of Ontario Autism Coalition, as quoted by Global News.
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Office of MPP Jennifer French: http://www.jenniferfrench.ca/