February 11, 2019 7:28 pm

Ontario couple considers separation, selling home to help children with autism

There's more fallout from the provincial government's announcement on autism funding. Caryn Lieberman has the story of a Barrie family facing impossible choices to help their two sons.

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Barrie mother of two, Raquel Turner, gets emotional when she describes a new bond between her boys.

“They used to be in a world of their own, didn’t even know that one or the other existed. They’re both just acknowledging each other as siblings,” she said.

Gabriel, 8, and Michael, 6, are living with autism.

READ MORE: ‘There is a tsunami headed for the school system’: Autism program changes raise concerns about effects on schools

Just two years ago, their mother explains, both boys were nonverbal.

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Since beginning Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI), Michael has become “completely verbal” and Gabriel “is just starting to build sentences.”

Most importantly, Gabriel and Michael are acting like brothers for the first time.

For their mother, that “is a beautiful thing to watch.”

READ MORE: Minister Lisa MacLeod says she stands ‘unapologetically’ by autism funding changes

News last week that the Ford government is planning an overhaul of funding for autism therapy has been difficult for Turner to process.

“Therapy has provided us a world of hope,” she said. “Hope for the future, possibilities. It’s giving them a chance to possibly one day hold a job, it’s giving them a brighter future.”

But it comes with a cost.

“[It costs] $8800 a month per child,” Turner said.

READ MORE: Ontario government overhauls autism program to attempt to eliminate wait list

Until now, that has been covered by the government but with changes to the autism program, Turner estimates she will need to pay $8000 a month, out of pocket, per child.

It’s an amount that is unaffordable, so she is considering her options.

“My husband and I have talked about what separation would look like and what kind of funding we can get that way. We talked about selling our house, we talked about remortgaging, we talked about taking out life savings,” she said. “What choice has the government left us?”

Both of her sons are excelling with IBI at forty hours per week.

Michael, 6, and Gabriel, 8.

Raquel Turner

“We give them a life, we give them a voice, we teach them to fend for themselves and advocate for themselves,” said Megan Garvey, an intensive behavioural intervention instructor therapist. “We teach them every little thing from potty training, going to the bathroom, dressing themselves, feeding themselves, requesting help, telling their moms and dads they love them.”

Garvey says she worries about Gabriel, who she has been working with for one year.

“He’s come so far and to think that he would be put back into a school come April and not have the supports he needs,” she said. “The regression that could happen and probably will happen is heartbreaking because he’s come so far and I think of how far he could come with the supports if he had them.”

WATCH ABOVE: Liberal MPP Michael Coteau reacts to Ford government’s autism announcement

Turner acknowledges the provincial government is making efforts to end the long waitlists for other children who have been waiting for autism therapy, but she says “this is not a solution, this is not even a quick fix, this is a disaster.”

Appearing on Global News last week, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod said, “23,000 children are on a waitlist either for diagnostic hubs or for service. We’re going to clear that waitlist in the next 18 months.”

In response, Turner says: “All you’ve done to say you’ve cleared the waitlist is you literally wiped a table clean of all the dishes [and] let them crumble on the floor and have the parents pick up the pieces.”

WATCH: Toronto family reacts to Ford government’s autism announcement 

Global News reached out to Lisa Macleod’s office for comment and did not hear back or get an answer to whether divorce might help parents get more funding.

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