Nearly six months after implementing controversial changes to the Ontario Autism Program, the Progressive Conservative government is admitting it “didn’t get it right.”

Social Services minister Todd Smith announced the Doug Ford government will redesign the program a second time after facing intense criticism that the initial version wouldn’t support thousands of children who rely on the program.

“We took an initial attempt at program redesign. It’s clear to me that we didn’t get the redesign right the first time,” Smith said during a Monday morning news conference.

“I’m here to tell you that we will now.”

Smith says the new version of the program, to be unveiled on April 1, 2020, will cost $600 million per year and will focus on the severity of a child’s autism to calculate government funding.

“Our government is committed to building a needs based autism program,” Smith said. “Not just a needs-component, a needs-based program.”

Until the new plan is ready, Smith says the government will continue to pay for treatment services for children who were previously receiving it, which advocates say will mean children with autism may not have to enter the school system which might lack the proper supports.

Smith says his government will also expand the mandate of the autism advisory panel set up in the spring to development recommendations for a new needs-based program.

Laura Kirby-McIntosh with the Ontario Autism Coalition serves as one of the members of the advisory panel and calls it a “good step forward.”

“This announcement to me marks the beginning of the end of the disastrous Doug Ford, Lisa MacLeod Autism plan,” Kirby-McIntosh told reporters.

Kirby-McIntosh was one of the leading opponents of the Ford government’s overhaul of autism funding, leading protests outside Queen’s Park and at Progressive Conservative constituency offices across the province.

She says that while the new plan is a “180 degree” turnaround from the first version, there is still work that needs to be done.

“We have been empowered to recommend a truly needs-based program,” Kirby-McIntosh said.