Londoners rally against announced changes to Ontario’s autism program

Local parents and community members line up along Richmond Street at the northwest corner of Victoria Park to rally against the Ontario government's changes to the provincial autism program. Andrew Graham / 980 CFPL

The northeast corner of Victoria Park was lined with Londoners on Saturday rallying against the Ontario government’s overhaul of its autism program.

The changes, announced Wednesday, would see funding for treatment given directly to families instead of regional service providers in an effort to clear a massive wait list of 23,000 children.

The planned overhaul would see families receive up to $140,000 for a child in treatment from the ages of two to 18.

The money would be received in installments of $20,000 a year until their child turns six. After that, families would only receive $5,000 a year until their child turns 18.

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

The move was met with criticism from a number of families and advocates who argued that while the backlog will be eliminated, the amount and quality of treatment will decrease.

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ONTABA alleges minister pressured them to support autism plan – Feb 14, 2019

One of many dissenting voices came from Sarah Farrants, who helped organize Saturday’s downtown rally.

Farrants told 980 CFPL that she was “devastated” when she first learned of the upcoming changes and how it would affect her three-year-old, non-verbal autistic son, Mason.

“Mason’s been on the wait list since October, but I’ve shared counselling sessions with families who have been on the wait list for four years,” said Farrants.

“Their children are now over the age of six, so they will no longer get the intensive care that they need because the cap will be $5,000 a year. Intensive Behavioral Intervention can cost up to $80,000 a year per child.”

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

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During Saturday’s rally, London North Centre New Democrat MPP Terence Kernaghan condemned the changes, adding that the Doug Ford government is applying a “cookie-cutter approach” to autism by implementing a funding cap.

“We know autism is a spectrum. Some people require much more service than others do,” said Kernaghan.

“Furthermore, funding will only last until the age of 18… this government is saying that autism ends at 18.”

Both Kernaghan and Farrants argued that families were being ignored across the province in regard to the autism program and called for increased consultation.

“We didn’t have a place at that table,” said Farrants.

“The government says they’re speaking for me because I’m a wait list parent. They’re not my voice.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press.

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