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'Nothing has changed': Ontario announces tweaks to autism funding program
Ontario is tweaking its controversial autism program, eliminating income testing and extending contracts for children currently receiving government-funded therapy for another six months.
Parents of children with autism have organized several protests over the plan announced last month by Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, saying it would leave kids without access to the levels of therapy they need.
MacLeod said Thursday morning that the past month has been "incredibly emotional" for families and that she has heard their concerns.
"Parents were right when they said that autism is a spectrum and that there are different needs for children on the spectrum," she said. "So for the next few months, I'll take their input to best assess how we better support those with complex needs and provide additional supports for them."
Amanda Baysarowich, founder of IBI Behavioural Services in Barrie, says she's happy, but not thrilled with today's news, saying it still isn't enough.
“I’m not thrilled, because that’s six months and then we go back to her plan, and she’s very adamant that her plan is the right plan.”
Senior therapist, Ashley Winter, admits that the six month transition period is a relief but, “nothing has changed. It’s just a delay of the inevitable. It will give schools more time to prepare for these children coming into the school system, but at the same time, it also means kids that should be accessing proper funding won’t get that opportunity.”
Carolyn Ryan and her son Austin have made great strides this year with his development, but it has come at a cost. “We’re spending more on therapy a month than we do on our mortgage,” She says the elimination of income testing for parents will help her family, but there will still be a significant shortfall.
“Because he is seven we will receive the $5,000 a year as opposed to the $1,333 because of our income, so that’s great. But that still doesn’t cover two months of half therapy a year.”
MacLeod has previously announced that to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children, kids with autism would receive direct funding to pay for treatment, with caps of up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children under six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18.
Those maximums were based on family income, and MacLeod says today that all kids under six diagnosed as on the spectrum will receive $20,000, and kids over six will receive $5,000.
“We were hoping that they would issue needs-based therapy,” Baysarowich says of the announcement. “They’ve removed the income caps, and the income testing, which is a step in the right direction. But is it enough? No, it’s still not.”
“The plan itself is the same,” says Ryan. “And that plan is that there isn’t enough funding for anyone to receive the therapy they need.”
MacLeod also says the government is now looking at how best to provide additional supports to families based on the diagnosed need of the child.
Intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, and many parents with kids already in government-funded treatment say they will be unable to cover the difference to keep their kids in full-time therapy.
NDP critic Monique Taylor criticized the announcement of new consultations with parents less than two weeks before the plan starts April 1.
"They should have done the work before they made the announcement and put the policy in place," she said. "They've put families in chaos for the last month and a half for no reason."
- With files from The Canadian Press, Allison Jones