Critics calling for more autism services for English-speaking families in Quebec

WATCH ABOVE: A family in Rigaud is moving to Ontario to access services for their autistic son because of long waiting lists in Quebec. As Anne Leclair reports, several stakeholders claim it's a growing problem faced by many English-speaking families.

Some English-speaking families living off the island of Montreal are turning to Ontario to access services for their children living with autism.

At least four families in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region claim their local CLSC re-directed them to a public clinic in Hawkesbury to avoid the unreasonably long wait lists in Quebec.

“I mean, I didn’t have a choice,” said Chantal MacReam, whose seven-year-old son has been receiving speech and occupational therapy in Ontario for two years.

“If they don’t offer services in English, I have to go somewhere 45 minutes, an hour away otherwise my child wouldn’t be getting services.”

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Another mother who spoke to Global News on Tuesday also confirms the advice came from her local health institution.

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READ MORE: Montreal family feels forced to leave Quebec to access autism services 

“What surprised me was the fact that it was people from Quebec who originally suggested we put our name there. Otherwise, we would have had no idea,” Alanna Spicer said.

But the local health board (CISSS Montérégie-Ouest) is on the defensive and denies families are being referred to Ontario or the private sector.

“We don’t encourage this practice since we offer several re-adaptation services for people with autism spectrum disorder,” Jade St-Jean, a spokesperson for the CISSS Montérégie-Ouest, said.

“Services are the same for our anglophone and francophone clientele… The waiting list for autism services for people under the age of six is less than three months.”

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READ MORE: Community Groups Network meets with Quebec premier 

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) deplored the fact that English services are less accessible off-island and demanded the government address the problem before more families are forced to leave the province.

“Maybe the fact that they’re spending money to send kids to Ontario is better than those kids not getting services at all, which might be the case in the townships or the Gaspé,” QCGN vice-president Geoffrey Chambers said.

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“It’s obviously evidence that the department of health is really not taking the explosion of demand in the autism sector as seriously as it needs to.”

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In Quebec City, the minister responsible for social services admits more needs to be done.

“I know that everything is not perfect in the province of Quebec for autism but we’re working on it,” Lucie Charlebois said. “We’re going to deposit an action plan so that we’re going to improve our services.”

READ MORE: Parents of autistic children in Quebec struggle for access to health services

Under the law, if health institutions can’t provide certain services, they’re obliged to re-direct patients to other institutions.

“What is a little surprising is that their reference is in Ontario and not in a Quebec institution. That could create some problem,” lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard said.

Families that are forced to leave the province for health care services should be compensated for the extra time and travel costs, according to Ménard.

“This has a very high cost for families,” he said, while suggesting they may have the right to seek compensation from the Quebec government.

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