Partial funding restored for Ontario children over 5 years old with autism after backlash

Queen's Park in downtown Toronto, Ont., on May 29, 2015. Craig Wadman / File / Global News

TORONTO — Children five and older with autism will no longer be cut off from government-funded intensive therapy, as the Ontario government announced new funding Tuesday, but some parents are not ready to forgive the Liberals for the “misery” they endured.

The Liberal government announced earlier this year that a new Ontario Autism Program would 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.

But that program was not due to roll out until 2018, 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 $8,000 to pay for private therapy during the transition.

READ MORE: Doctor speaks out on Ontario’s new controversial autism program 

The backlash from parents was swift and sustained. Hundreds of children had spent two or three years on the IBI wait list, only to be abruptly removed and given an amount of money that would only pay for, at most, a few months of therapy.

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Michael Coteau, the new minister for children and youth services, announced Tuesday that those families will be given direct funding – in successive payments of $10,000 – to pay for therapy until their child has a spot in the new program, or if they prefer, ABA funded by the government.

The government is also speeding up the transition to the new program, with a goal of implementing it in June 2017.

READ MORE: Changes planned for Ontario’s autism treatment program, new minister says

“With this additional funding we are ensuring service continuity – in other words, there will be no gaps in service,” Coteau said. “I believe without a question that these enhancements we’re announcing here today respond directly to the legitimate concerns raised by parents and advocates.”

He would not say that the controversial initial transition plan was a mistake.

“No, that original plan got us to where we are today,” Coteau said. “There were some challenges there, which I acknowledged – the transition period, the support for families – those are the things that people did not like and we’ve made some changes, invested some more money and resources to make sure the plan is put in place.

READ MORE: Ontario rethinking transition to new autism program: minister

Officials estimate the cost of several changes to the program transition will be $200 million, in addition to the $333 million that had already been earmarked for the new Ontario Autism Program.

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Kristen Ellison, a single mom to an autistic boy, said she is “cautiously optimistic.”

“I really wanted to hear an apology, though,” she said. “I really wanted them to say, ‘We made a mistake. We didn’t get it right. We’re going to get it right now, but we’re sorry that we put you through this misery.”‘

READ MORE: Wynne leaves door open to changing implementation of Ontario Autism Program

Kids five and older who were already receiving IBI when the changes were announced this spring will continue in treatment, Coteau said. Officials had said those children would be transitioned out of IBI after six months.

Linda Galvao, who has two autistic children, said she isn’t ready to forgive and forget.

“I just feel really upset that we even had to go through this to begin with, the amount of stress that it’s put on our family,” she said. “I’m just saddened by the whole thing. I can’t even be excited today.”

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