April is Autism Awareness Month.
It’s been more than two years since the province made changes to the Ontario Autism Plan. It’s a decision many parents have fought since, including one father who gave his awareness campaign a whole new look Tuesday.
Tony Stravato, who has spent a lot of time outside Whitby MPP Lorne Coe’s office advocating for his twin boys living with autism, was back Tuesday.
After growing his beard since the provincial government made changes to the Ontario Autism Plan,
Stravato shaved it off.
“The beard has been a symbol of my fight but it’s not going to change anything,” said Stravato.
A GoFundMe campaign is the reason Stravato shaved the beard. He said that if they raised $20,000 for a billboard awareness campaign, he would use the razor for the first time in two years.
That mark was reached late last month.
“We’re very tired people but at the end of the day, we have no choice but to continue fighting for our children. This therapy is a matter of life and death for some, families are in crisis throughout Ontario and we can’t sit back and let it happen,” said Stravato.
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Virginia Mazzone-Ahou was one of a few parents of children with autism who were there to watch Stravato shave, while others circled the block honking their horns.
“I think if we wait around for the government to provide us with a needs-based program, you know, his beard is probably going to reach the floor, so this awareness campaign was a good boost,” said Mazzone-Ahou.
Tara Stone, another parent of a child living with autism, said “it’s only fitting that at this point, after all of that money raised and that hard work to get that money, that we would circle back here.”
With the money raised, the plan is to have a billboard in the riding of Todd Smith, the minister who oversees the autism portfolio.
While an autism billboard won’t be going up in Durham right away, the plan is to eventually have them in communities across the province, with the goal of establishing strong needs-based therapies for children living with autism.
The province said in a statement that last month, “the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services began inviting children and youth to participate in the launch of core clinical services, a critical step forward in the ongoing implementation of the new needs-based Ontario Autism Program.”
“To support services for children and youth on the autism spectrum our government doubled the funding allocation for the Ontario Autism Program to $600 million, which is the ongoing budget for the program moving forward,” the statement read.
“We recognize that COVID-19 continues to create challenges and uncertainty for many families. That’s why families will be offered an extension of funding to purchase the services they feel are most appropriate for their children while implementation of core clinical services is ongoing.”
As for Stravato, the beard might be gone but he says his fight won’t go away that easily.