Hundreds show up at Queen's Park to protest autism program changes
They came by the busloads. Hundreds of families of children with autism from all across the province gathered at Queen’s Park on Thursday hoping their voices will make a change.
“We’re going to fight for our kids and get them what they need!”
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, announced last month that to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children, kids with autism would receive direct funding to pay for treatment.
Families will get up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children under six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18, but intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.
Parents are calling for the funding to be based on children's individual needs, instead of just their age.
Karen Shepley has two children with autism and made the trip from Barrie to the Ontario legislature this morning. “I feel sick to my stomach for all the families out there. There’s going to be nothing left for them,” she says. “It’s not fair that a whole bunch won’t get to learn how to talk and do basic things.”
Many of the parents protesting the changes have children that were waitlisted for funding, and admit they would rather keep waiting with the knowledge that help would eventually come.
“My son will not get the funding, and he’ll slip through the cracks,” says one mom.
Parents, advocates and some within the school system say if children with autism who are currently in intensive therapy no longer have those costs fully covered, they will be in classrooms before they've had the chance to develop necessary skills.
Amanda Baysarowich, an advocate at the protest warns, “These school systems are not prepared for what’s to come.”
That also means already-stretched educational assistant resources will be spread even thinner.
The education minister's office has said she is reviewing the results of an autism pilot project in schools, but the results won't be available until weeks after the autism funding changes have kicked in on April 1.
- With files from The Canadian Press