It’s been one week since the province announced it is changing its autism program again, and Peterborough’s autism community is responding.
Last month, the Ontario government backed off on its controversial plan to provide parents with a fixed amount of funding per child and instead said it would pursue a needs-based program. That program is not expected to come out until April 2020.
While parents in Peterborough are pleased with the government’s changes, they are still confused as to what will happen next year.
Peterborough mother Kristen Locklin says waiting until April for changes is too long and has been fighting the government for funding and clarity. She’s doing it all for her six-year-old son, Noah, who has autism and requires extra attention.
“We are very fortunate to be the people who are in service currently,” Locklin said.
“Thanks to all the fighting that we’ve been doing with our local MPP and with the provincial government, last week they decided that they would issue another six-month therapy extension, meaning the kids that are getting needs-based services through the old program will continue to get those for another six months like they need.”
Locklin said April is “a long ways away, especially for those parents who aren’t in services right now who have been waiting for three years.”
Mother Susanna Fischer has two children on the waitlist for services — one has been diagnosed while the other is still waiting.
“Each time the government has to figure out and fix the problem that they created, we are losing years,” said Fischer.
Another mother, Christiana Ripley, says she can’t afford to lose any more time waiting on the government, either. Ripley was also on the waitlist to help her five-and-a-half-year-old son Alexander. She was finally approved for funding but is left in limbo waiting to see what is going to happen after April.
“Literally, my son has been waiting since 2017 to learn how to go to the potty,” said Ripley. “I’m a single mother on disability, so having funding for my son is strictly dependent on what the government gives me.”
Global News reached out to Social Services Minister Todd Smith for a response to these mothers’ complaints. Press Secretary, Christine Wood sent us the following statement.
“While a truly needs-based Ontario Autism Program is being developed, we’re taking action to address the anxiety that we know parents and families are feeling,” Wood’s statement reads.
“Families who are in service are able to continue their plans until their end date, and then renew for a second extension of up to six months. We’re also continuing to bring children off the waitlist and into service by issuing childhood budgets.”
WATCH: (July 29, 2019) Ontario government promises needs-based autism program
A panel of 20 experts will lead the government’s direction on the new program.
“By the end of the summer, the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel will provide their recommendations for a new, needs- based, sustainable program. The new plan will be announced this fall, and is expected to be implemented by April 2020,” said Wood.
“We have listened, and we have learned. Our government is making sure we get this right by building an Ontario Autism Program that gives our kids not just what they need, but what they and their parents deserve.”
As for these Peterborough mothers, they are all on the same page and believe the government needs to look at autism as a medical condition, one that doesn’t just go away when you turn a certain age. They said until the government sees that, they will keep on fighting for the lives their children deserve.