Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is being urged to create a “needs-based” autism funding program that provides “evidence-based, clinically appropriate care” for the thousands of autistic children in the province.

The government under Premier Doug Ford was handed a number of recommendations from an advisory panel that was tasked with creating a new autism program – after the government was widely criticized for botching its initial attempt at redesigning the program.

“The panel believes its recommendations for a new Ontario Autism Program (OAP) should be cause for hope, for children and youth on the autism spectrum and their families,” the report reads.

The panel cautioned, however, that with a finite $600 million a year budget the new autism program will need to impose “annual caps” on the amount of funding families can receive, and that the limits will be “unavoidable into the foreseeable future.”

The panel says to improve the quality of life for people on the autism spectrum the new program should be evidence and needs-based, support early intervention and help people transition into adolescence and adulthood.

In order to determine the level of care needed the report recommends that the Ontario Autism Program will need to put families of children with autism first.

“Family members know their children best and should be key partners in determining their child or youth’s care and be actively engaged in the process of identifying and determining their child’s priority needs,” the report states.

However, the panel recommends that a clinical assessment from a “qualified professional” will be needed in order to begin receiving provincial funding.

The report cautions that with a “large number of children” waiting for treatment that only those with a “confirmed autism diagnoses” will be eligible to receive services.

If wait times are reduced in the future, the panel says, the program can then be extended to children with a “provisional diagnosis.”

“We recognize that waiting lists and service caps would not be necessary in an ideal scenario, and we all look forward to the day when neither exist,” the report states

“Until that day, however, the OAP must concentrate on serving as many children and youth as possible, as fairly as possible, while maintaining clinical efficacy.”

The report also recommends that the Ministry of Health should “co-fund, develop, pilot and provide” specialized mental health services to provide families with additional support, and that the government should examine the support provided to adults living with autism.

Social Services Minister Todd Smith says he has to review the report in full, and has yet to commit to its full implementation.

The new program will be in place by April 2020.