Saskatchewan families moving due to lack of autism funding

Watch the video above: Lack of autism funding prompts some families to leave Sask.

SASKATOON – Parents say Saskatchewan funding for autism is lagging behind other provinces – so much so, that some families are choosing to move elsewhere.

Shannon Hill’s life changed after her son Colby was diagnosed with autism.

“Basically it’s a spectrum disorder, so he shares many of the characteristics of a child who has quote, full blown autism, but he doesn’t have all of the characteristics,” she explained.

Hill says her family was lucky; they had enough income to support Colby.

Watch below: behaviour therapist Shannon Hill wants the Saskatchewan government to provide more funds for therapy

She says many other parents in her situation are either planning to leave the province or already have.

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One of her friends, Sheri Radoux, has moved south of the U.S. border to Minnesota.

“I think the services in Saskatchewan are probably the worst in Canada or one of the worst in Canada,” said Radoux.

“We moved down to Minnesota and we got full-time therapy for all of our children, paid and funded by the state.”

Saskatchewan spends about $7.5 million annually on autism treatment and services. Manitoba, which has a similar population, spends about $15 million a year.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said the province has made great strides since 2007.

“We’ve made a 1400 per cent increase with services and supports and like any other program or service, I guess you can always do more,” said Linda Restau, with the ministry.

In Saskatchewan, funding is provided to health regions, which then deliver autism services through existing programs.

“They only have so much staff, so much time, so much money allocated for these kids,” explained Hill.

“Then the kids are put on a wait list.”

Hill, who now works with autistic children herself, says many of them receive only several hours of behavioural therapy a week.

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“When we were looking, you could get one hour a week of therapy. And that’s like saving a sinking boat with a thimble,” explained Radoux.

“It’s basically a waste of money on the government’s part because it doesn’t produce any outcomes.”

B.C. used to have a more government-controlled system like Saskatchewan’s current process.

“The parents [in B.C.] advocated and lobbied to get rid of that, so that they would have more control over what was going on,” said Hill.

Now B.C. children under six have access to $22,000 that they can spend on a range of public or private services.

Hill said she and others will continue push the Saskatchewan government to adopt a similar system that allows parents more freedom.

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