Suspended Ontario PC MPP says comments on autism weren’t directed at parents

Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP Randy Hillier, who was suspended on Wednesday from the Ontario PC Party caucus, says he didn’t make disrespectful comments to parents of children with autism.

Sources told Global News some parents said Hillier told them “yada yada yada” as they attended question period.

Hillier said he was sorry if the comments meant for the NDP had upset the families.

“I apologize to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them,” he said.

“They were not, and never would be.”

Premier Doug Ford’s office announced earlier in the day that Hillier was suspended “indefinitely.”

“This is no doubt that this is the toughest file I have ever worked on. Minister MacLeod began reviewing the program her first day and developed a fair, equitable and sustainable program for all children and families,” Ford said in a statement.

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“I want to listen to every parent, and every family member who wants to share their stories and their asks … But Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the lined and that is unacceptable.”

Dozens of parents were at the legislature on Wednesday to voice concerns about the new program that they say provides inadequate funding for their kids to get the treatment they need.

Nancy Silva-Khan is the mom to seven-year-old twin boys on the severe end of the autism spectrum. They are currently in 30 hours a week of publicly funded therapy at a cost of $120,000 for both children. When the new program takes effect in a few weeks she will get less than $10,000 per year to pay for their therapy.

“They have chosen to provide a grain of rice for a therapy famine experienced by the autism community,” Silva-Khan said.

Her boys have made great strides in therapy, she said, including learning to feed themselves with a spoon and undress themselves.

“They no longer hit me while bathing,” she said. “They have stopped violently banging their heads on the window of a vehicle whenever stopped at a red light. My boys can now scream ‘ma’ when they need me. Intensive (applied behaviour analysis) therapy works, regardless of age.”

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Stephanie Ridley, mom to a seven-year-old boy who is non-verbal, said the amount of funding each family will get will not be enough for many children, using an analogy.

“Every kid in this province, (MacLeod) says, deserves a pair of glasses, and they just got them all with no lenses,” Ridley said. “Not every kid needs intensive therapy. We’re just asking for what each kid individually needs.”

MacLeod has said that her goal with the new program is to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for treatment, saying it’s unfair that only about 8,400 are currently receiving funded therapy. She said that the flow of kids coming off the wait list had slowed to a trickle, leading her to believe that if she didn’t make changes, they would stay on that list forever.

But many of those on the list say they’d rather wait for full funding.

Only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 will be eligible for the maximum annual amounts, with funding determined on a sliding scale up to a $250,000 income.

Parents, who are planning a protest at the legislature March 7, said they won’t back down in demanding changes.

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“If they want to keep doing this, we’ll keep dancing,” said Kristen Ellison, mom to an eight-year-old in treatment for 25 hours a week. “We can’t do it every day, but there’s a parent behind us who will replace us when we have to fall back. I am not going away.”

— With files from Jessica Patton

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