To kick off autism month in Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA) released a blueprint for a national strategy for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) Monday morning in Ottawa.
CASDA is calling on the federal government to lead a “co-ordinated approach” to address the complex issues pertaining to autism.
According to CASDA, ASD is the most common and fastest-growing neurodevelopmental disorder in the country, affecting one in 66 Canadians. Nationwide, approximately 500,000 Canadians and their families are affected.
CASDA says the strategy will work to ensure all Canadians with autism and their families and caregivers have full and equitable access to the resources they need.
According to the CASDA, the strategy will focus on three main components.
- More federal leadership to facilitate pan-Canadian collaboration that is co-ordinated and comprehensive, with participation from provinces, territories and federal governments
- Immediate federal action in areas of jurisdictional responsibility, specifically access and affordability, housing, sharing of information, employment and research
- An integrated cross-departmental federal government approach
In addition to the national ASD strategy, CASDA is calling on the federal government to develop a distinct Indigenous ASD strategy in partnership with Indigenous communities to address their distinctive needs.
According to CASDA, the existence of a distinct Indigenous strategy does not mean Indigenous people should feel unserved by mainstream services, which should be equipped to provide culturally safe supports.
According to the CASDA, in advance of the federal election, the alliance will be advocating for the strategy to be developed in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, Canadians with ASD and their families as well as experts.
“There is no question that we have seen some important progress in recent years that we would like to see maintained, but the Canadian autism community needs more,” said CASDA chair Cynthia Carroll. “Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are on the autism spectrum, and the lack of understanding, supports and resources impacts communities and hinders individuals from reaching their full potential.”
“We need a truly national approach, a strategy that puts autistic Canadians and their families at the centre,” she said. “We have a blueprint for a national ASD strategy that can and will get us moving to do just that.”
WATCH: Lisa MacLeod claims province will double funding to Ontario Autism Program
The call for a national strategy comes amid debate in Ontario, where the Progressive Conservatives have announced changes to the province’s autism program.
The province announced it will provide funding directly to parents of children with autism instead of to regional service providers.
With the new changes, Ontario families with an autistic child would receive $20,000 a year until their child turns six. After the age of six, families would receive $5,000 a year until their child turns 18.
Initially, only families with an adjusted annual net income of under $55,000 would have been eligible for the maximum funding, with funding amounts for families determined on a sliding scale up to an income of $250,000.
However, after nearly two months of protests from affected families, Ontario Minister of Social Services Lisa MacLeod announced she would be eliminating income testing for the program so that all children under six diagnosed on the spectrum will receive $20,000, and children over the age of six would receive $5,000.
But, with intensive therapy costing up to $80,000 a year in Ontario, many parents with children in government-funded therapy say they will be unable to make up the difference.
Families protesting the changes were also seeking to have additional programs qualify under the program. According to MacLeod, speech language pathology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy will now be included.
MacLeod also announced that children currently receiving government-funded therapy would have their contracts extended by six months.
Elsewhere in Canada, families with autistic children can access between $2,200 and $22,000 a year for therapy.
Currently, government autism funding differs across the country, with some provinces and territories choosing to allot funding directly to families while others fund regional programs and service providers.
—With files Katie Dangerfield and the Canadian Press