Parents furious over Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s overhaul of its autism program made their voices heard at provincial parliament this week, with many saying the funding changes will leave families woefully underfunded.
On Feb. 6, the province announced changes to its autism program, which would see funding given directly to families instead of to regional service providers. It is an effort to clear a massive waitlist of children waiting for autism treatment in the province.
The changes mean families would receive $20,000 a year until their child turns six. After that, families would get $5,000 a year until their child turns 18.
But intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, and angered parents are calling for funding to be based on children’s individual needs, instead of just their age.
“This new plan is the death of the Ontario autism plan. It’s going to clear waitlist, but do it by making sure no one gets what they need,” said Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of Ontario Autism Coalition.
She said the best way to help families is to fund a “needs-based” program, which determines how much funding a family gets based on the child’s specific autism needs.
There are three different levels of autism, some children require little support while other kids have severe deficits in verbal and noncommunication skills, and need a great deal of support. Kirby-McIntosh said funding should target this spectrum.
WATCH: Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services responds to questions from parents of children with autism
The Ontario government has defended its changes to the autism program, saying the previous one was unfair as 8,400 children were receiving support while 23,000 waited.
But autism funding and waitlists is a problem across Canada.
For example, in Montreal parents have been asking the province for better access to speech therapy for children with autism. In British Columbia, there has been an increasing number of children waiting to get assessed for autism.
Here is how government autism funding looks across Canada.
WATCH: Ontario couple desperate to maintain autism funding for children considers separating, selling home
Families can access up to $22,000 a year per child under the age of six. And from six to 18 years old, families can access up to $6,000 a year per child for autism therapy.
School districts in B.C. also receive supplemental funding from the province for every student living with autism.
WATCH: Thousands of B.C. children waiting for autism assessment
The province funds a program called Family Support for Children with Disabilities. The funding is not based on the child’s specific diagnosis but on the unique needs of each family and child, the province says. The program provides:
- Autism therapy, respite service, child care and school support.
WATCH: Calgary student diagnosed with autism benefits from having service dog in school
Families can access up to $4,000 a year per child under the age of six.
Manitoba funds an assortment of regional agencies that provide autism support:
- The Children’s Disability Service provides funding for children with autism under the age of 18. The program provides autism intervention methods, autism specialists and applied behaviour analysis.
- Children’s Therapy Initiative is for anyone up to the age of 21 who has a developmental concern. It provides speech, hearing, movement and social development therapy.
Families can access up to $20,000 a year per child under the age of six. And from six to 18 years old, families can access up to $5,000 a year per child for autism therapy.
The changes mean families can receive a lifetime maximum of up to $140,000 for a child in treatment from the ages of two to 18.
But only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 are eligible for the maximum annual amounts, with funding determined on a sliding scale up to a $250,000 income.
WATCH: Ontario parents of children with autism confront Minister
The province funds the Autism Action Plan, which provides autism therapy for children ages two to five.
The province funds the Services for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is for preschool children diagnosed with autism.
- It provides 20 hours a week of intensive intervention (called early intensive behavioural intervention) for preschool children.
- This amounts to up to $33,000 per child every year for autism therapy.
There is also the Family Support for Children with Disabilities for children 18 years old or younger which helps support families with a child with a lifelong disability.
Nova Scotia funds an Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention Treatment for preschool children.
- Autism therapy is provided for the first six months for 15 hours per week and is gradually reduced over the following six months.
The Direct Family Support Program for Children also provides up to $2,200 per month to qualifying families caring for children with disabilities at home to access respite services. It’s for children aged 19 and under.
WATCH: N.S. family ‘scared’ as boy with severe autism faces release without home supports
Prince Edward Island
P.E.I. funds an Autism Early Intervention Program for preschool children.
- This includes up to 25 hours a week of autism therapy. It also funds $200 per week per child for autism therapy material.
There is also the Autism Early Intervention Program for school-aged children.
- This funds school-based autism assistants and private one-on-one tutors for school-aged children outside of school. The funding amounts to $6,600 per year per school-aged child.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The province funds the Intensive Applied Behavourial Analysis Program for autism.
- This includes autism therapy for children who are in preschool all the way up to Grade 3.
- Eligible preschool-aged children can receive up to 30 hours per week of intensive intervention.
- Children in Kindergarten and Grades 1-3 can receive up to 15 hours per week.
There is also a Direct Home Services Program that is an early-intervention program for infants and pre-school aged children who are at risk of significant developmental delays.
The Northwest Territories funds an autism program for preschool and school-aged children.
- This includes therapeutic intervention for children under the age of six. Also, children over the age of six have access to aides and other services in schools.
The Yukon funds a program called Services to Children with Disabilities.
- This includes funding for children up to the age of 19 who are affected by autism with services such as therapeutic interventions, respite services, child care, medical travel and assessments.
No specific programs exist for children with autism in Nunavut, according to Autism Canada. Applications can be made for income assistance through the territory’s Family Service’s department.