Eight-year-old Gabby Turner is on the autism spectrum. But years of treatment has helped tremendously.

“He went from non-verbal to having words,” says Gabby’s mother Raquel Turner. “I never even thought that could exist for me.”

But the Ford government’s plan to overhaul Ontario’s autism program has left parents like Gabby’s terrified.

“Taking this away is taking everything. It’s taking my life away,” says Turner. “They’re taking life from children; innocent, vulnerable children.”

The plan will see parents with autistic children under the age of six receive a maximum of $140,000 for treatment up until the age of eighteen. Kids older than six will receive up to $55,000. But advocates say intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 per year.

“What’s devastating is the impact this is going to have first and foremost on the children,” says Psychologist James Porter.

IBI Behavioural Services, a group of treatment centres in Barrie, currently helps 175 children. They also have a waiting list.

“Inadequate treatment and intervention means these children will not be able to reach the potential growth and development they would otherwise make,” says Porter. 

Some parents say they will be forced to sell their homes and take other dramatic steps.

“If we sell every asset that we have we get maybe eight months of therapy. If we sell everything.” says another parent Ross Maclean. “So what are you going to do? We’re going to fight.”
Ontario’s Minister in charge of the autism program, Lisa MacLeod, says she will “continue to stand unapologetically” for the funding changes. MacLeod says the funding will go directly to families instead of regional service providers, which she says will ensure that 23,000 kids currently on the wait list will get treatment.

MacLeod says she has compassion for the parents, as everyone wants the best for their child, but it was "cruel" that about one-quarter of kids with autism in Ontario were receiving treatment while the rest were on a waitlist.

   The Ontario Autism Coalition, which protested Liberal policies in 2016 until they were rolled back, says it will fight changes to the program.

***With files from the Canadian Press***