Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services is defending the government’s overhaul of its autism program.
On Wednesday, the government announced changes aimed at clearing a wait list of 23,000 children by, in part, giving funding for treatment directly to families instead of regional service providers.
However, families and advocates have argued that while the backlog will be eliminated, the amount and quality of treatment will decrease.
Speaking on the Craig Needles Show on Thursday, Lisa MacLeod argued that under the old system, only about 25 per cent of kids with autism were able to get treatment.
“Why do you not think that we should support those 75 per cent of the kids on the wait list?” she asked Needles.
He responded, “I think there should be a way that we can do both, I know it’s expensive but…”
“So where do I take the money from? Is it from the violence against women shelters? Is it from the refugee…”
“I think that’s a false dichotomy, Minister.”
“But it’s not, that’s what’s on my desk,” MacLeod said.
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Under the new plan, a family could receive up to $140,000 for a child in treatment from the age of two to 18, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55,000 in total.
Dr. Julie Koudys with the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) believes that’s not nearly enough when intensive treatment can cost as much as $80,000 in a single year.
“Intensive behavourial intervention, which is the proven intervention to help these children and families, to really improve the quality of life for any of the children who require this intensity of service, it really is going to require children be in treatment for 25 to 40 hours per week.”
MacLeod was asked about ONTABA’s position during her appearance on the Craig Needles Show.
“With respect to ONTABA, let’s be clear, they don’t believe that there’s any other therapy and some parents are telling us that other therapies work so they’re very self-interested in this,” she said.
“We lost a generation of children over the past 15 years with the poorly run program. This way we’ll be able to focus on getting that early intervention to kids earlier and those on the waitlist, we’ll get that cleared. It’s just, it was unethical and in my opinion it was cruel to only service 25 per cent of the children.”
Elsbeth Dodman is an advocate with the Ontario Autism Coalition and has autism. She stressed that the funding plan doesn’t address individual needs.
“If your child is older than nine, you’re going to receive less money than if your child was under five. This may not be in line with what your child needs. Autism is a huge spectrum. This is not a one size fits all and we cannot take a one size fits all approach.”
Dodman added that in addition to a lack of service providers, there’s also the issue of geography.
“If you are in a rural community or if you are one of the province’s northern communities, being handed a wad of cash from the government and saying ‘do something with this’ – that’s not necessarily going to solve your problem, you’re still looking at, ‘where do I go?'”
The Ontario Autism Coalition, which protested Liberal policies in 2016 until they were rolled back, says it will fight changes to the program.
– with files from The Canadian Press.