It’s been months since the province started a new round of changes to the Ontario Autism Program.
Now, the government is looking for an independent organization to bring kids into a new needs-based program but parents say they’re still waiting for something concrete.
“We’ve had to fight every single day for almost the last two years to keep the necessary, medically necessary therapies that our boys need,” said Ontario Autism Coalition member Tony Stravato, whose seven-year-old twin boys Rocco and Roman are living with severe autism.
Stravato says his boys continue to make strides right now because they’re both still in therapy.
“They’re learning how to communicate, they’re learning self-help skills, they’re learning safety skills,” said Stravato.
But he’s worried about their future and that of other children in Ontario with autism.
“There’s probably just over 4,000 kids that are in service and 40,000 kids plus that are waiting for a needs-based system. No new child has come off the wait-list since July of 2018, when the list was frozen,” said Stavato.
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The provincial government has recently put out a tender for an independent intake organization to bring kids into the new needs-based program.
“The Independent Intake Organization will be accountable to the ministry for overseeing and administering key elements of the Ontario Autism Program, within regions and across Ontario,” the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said in a statement.
“The Independent Intake Organization will be responsible for employing and managing care coordinators, the delivery of a fair and consistent process to determine each child’s profile of support need, managing the dispute-resolution process, and establishing coordinated and integrated regional service networks across the province, in addition to many other roles.”
“The ministry says it is working closely with the clinical experts to develop a standardized process that will help to determine a child’s profile of support need and Ontario Autism Program funding allocation. OAP care co-ordinators will work directly with families to understand their child’s strengths, needs and goals, and families will receive funding corresponding to the child’s support need, which can be used for core clinical services.”
The ministry says the determination of needs is separate from the clinician-based assessment that would be completed by a clinician as a first step in providing core clinical service.
April Stauffer, a clinical supervisor who oversees therapy programs for children with autism in Oshawa, says that step is concerning.
“That care co-ordinator is supposed to have a social work background and is not a clinician, they’re not a board certified behaviour analyst, they’re not a psychologist and speech pathologist, they have no clinical training whatsoever and they’re going to be expected to use a decision-making model to determine how much funding each child gets and what their needs are,” said Stauffer, One Care clinical supervisor and certified behavioural analyst.
As for Stravato, he says the right therapy could be the difference between his kids living independently as adults or not.
“There’s no standardization within autism, it’s a huge spectrum and each child’s needs are totally individual,” said Stravato.
The ministry expects the independent intake organization to assume responsibility for the new needs-based Ontario Autism Program this spring.