Parents of children with autism left with questions ahead of new school year
With only a few weeks until summer ends, parents of children with autism are scrambling to prepare for an uncertain school year.
Sandra Lobinowich says that her son Noah, who has autism, is supposed to go into Grade 9, but the public school can’t offer him the one-on-one support he needs.
“It’s really disheartening and I’m sad for him, and I’m not sure for us what this next chapter will look like,” she said.
Lobinowich’s other son, 11-year-old Corbin, is also on the spectrum. While he is one of the children who has had his therapy funding extended another six months as the government re-assesses its approach, Lobinowich worries that is just delaying the inevitable.
“In April, there’s all these question marks. Students, teachers, nobody knows what’s happening. So, how can you prepare for something that you don’t know what’s coming?”
Earlier this year, the Ontario government announced changes to the autism funding model, opting to give money directly to parents of children with autism rather than to service providers. The changes were supposed to help eliminate the treatment wait list, but parents became concerned after learning there would be a cap on funding. Parents of kids under six years old would receive a maximum of $20,000 for treatment while parents of children over the age of six would receive $5,000.
After months of backlash, the government said it would extend existing therapy contracts for six months and create a non-partisan panel to advise the government on future changes. It also doubled increased funding for the Ontario Autism Program to $600 million.
In July, the Progressive Conservative government admitted it "didn't get it right" and said that the new program will be needs-based.
Lobinowich and her sister-in-law Jessica Hano say they talk often about the changes made by the provincial government. Hano’s son Jaxon has autism and the family has decided to pull him out of public school, despite the six-month extension in funding.
“Even if his funding gets taken away, in the private school setting the class sizes will be smaller,” Hano said.
Autism Advocacy Ontario is in the middle of surveying parents of children with autism as they get ready for September and said in a statement that anxiety is high among caregivers “as they have no clear path to prepare for the school year."
Sandra Pimintel’s eight-year-old son gets therapy five days a week, but she worries about what will happen once her funding extension has expired.
"I'm actually medicating for anxiety, so there is a lot to juggle," she said.
"Will they be able to accommodate just the 90 minutes that he's there? Will he be in a mainstream classroom still, or will be they be able to accommodate him in a smaller classroom for the short period of time he's there?"
With files from CTV News Toronto's Nick Dixon