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‘There used to be a light at the end of the tunnel’: London father speaks out ahead of rally protesting new autism program

A rally is planned for Victoria Park from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, February 16, 2019 to protest changes to Ontario's autism program. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart.

As the controversy surrounding changes to Ontario’s autism program grows, local parents and community members are doing their part to make their voices heard.

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

A rally will be held in Victoria Park from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.

The updated autism program aims to eliminate a massive wait list for treatment, in part by giving money directly to parents and guardians.

Dan McLean is among the parents who will be at the rally. His five-year-old son, Blake, was on the wait-list for two-and-a-half years before starting Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy in October, which he says has already made a big difference.

He says while the wait-list was not ideal, it still offered hope.

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“There used to be light at the end of the tunnel,” said McLean. “The new government has blown out the light and they’ve crushed the tunnel.”

McLean also argued that the changes impact every single child in Ontario.

“These children are going to be thrust back into the school system and it’s basically passing the buck. It’s then going to be the Ministry of Education’s problem once they get there,” he said.

“It would cost the government more later on to not invest the money in them now, essentially. So, as much as they want to say there’s no money in the social thing, again, it should almost be treated like it’s a health matter, which it is.”

WATCH: Barrie couple desperate to maintain autism funding for children considers separating, selling home

Click to play video: 'Ontario couple desperate to maintain autism funding for children considers separating, selling home' Ontario couple desperate to maintain autism funding for children considers separating, selling home
Ontario couple desperate to maintain autism funding for children considers separating, selling home – Feb 11, 2019

London North Centre New Democrat MPP Terence Kernaghan will be at Saturday’s rally. He says the government is replacing a bad program with a worse one and most parents he’s heard from would rather stick with the previous program.

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“I’ve heard from parents who… don’t want to see their kids get off the wait-list if that means that children in service right now are not going to get the services they require.”

In addition to frustration over the changes, there have also been calls for Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod to step down after Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) claimed that she told them that if they didn’t support the program, they’d be in for “a long four years.”

MacLeod tweeted Thursday evening that she apologizes if her comments “made anyone feel threatened or uncomfortable.”

Kernaghan called it a half-hearted apology, at best.

“What we need is for her to listen to parents. They need to design a program with children in mind and they need to make sure there’s consistency and routine.”

READ MORE: Group acknowledges MacLeod’s apology after they say she pressured them to support autism program

London-Fanshawe NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong and London-West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler will also attend Saturday’s rally.

— with files from 980 CFPL’s Liny Lamberink.

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