Ontario government to launch new consultations on autism program amid backlash
Ontario’s controversial autism program will be revamped once again, as the Progressive Conservative government looks to repair the rift with parents furious over the funding model.
Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced a new round of consultations beginning in May to transform the program into a needs-based system, in which children on the higher end of the spectrum would receive a larger share of funding for therapy.
“We have heard from parents and we want to take the time to listen very carefully to their best advice on a needs based system,” MacLeod said.
The government said it will strike a new advisory panel consisting of parents of children with autism and adults with autism, as well as psychologists, behavioural analysts, and rehabilitation service providers. The panel will advise the government this summer.
MacLeod said MPPs of all political stripe will also be allowed to host roundtables in their communities to gather feedback on the autism program and changes.
MacLeod made the announcement at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Centre, flanked by Education Minister Lisa Thompson, Health Minister Christine Elliott, as well as MPPs Amy Fee and Jeremy Roberts – both of whom have family members with autism.
The Ford government came under fierce criticism from autism funding advocates for their original program. The plan gave all children with autism access to the same envelope of funding –families with children under the age of six could receive up to $20,000 a year, with funding dropping after the age of six to about $5,000 a year until the child turns 18.
The government also imposed limits and claw backs based on family income.
Advocates accused the government of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to children with autism, leaving those with higher needs without the adequate support.
Faced with constant protests from parents, the government decided to eliminate the income-testing measure while allowing children currently receiving treatment to extend their contracts for an additional six months.
MacLeod said 8,400 children in service had their contracts extended by six months, giving the province time to enhance the program.
Over the next 18 months MacLeod said families will be receiving letters from regional service providers advising them that they are moving off the funding waitlist – the first letters are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.