LONDON — A new Ontario Autism Program revealed Tuesday is not needs-based — devastating families of children with autism who have waited years for a program to support them. On top of that, only 600 of about 42,000 who need autism support services are being allowed into the program off the bat.
“This morning’s announcement is devastating for families of children with autism,” said NDP Children and Youth Services critic Teresa Armstrong. “It’s not needs-based, and only a tiny fraction of the children who need help are going to get any at all. For many, it will literally result in a cut to the amount of therapy their children can get.”
Two years after the Doug Ford government slashed supports for children with autism, Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, revealed Wednesday that the new scheme lumps children into “needs categories” and caps their support based on their category assignment, as determined by bureaucrats called care coordinators.
For moms like Nancy Silva-Khan, whose twins both have autism, today’s announcement will result in a one-third slash to the therapy her children will receive.
“Imagine if your child had cancer, and the government had a bureaucrat determine how much funding they can qualify for, and capped their chemotherapy at that amount,” said Armstrong. “That’s the kind of callous, penny-pinching program the Ford government has just announced. Minister Smith uses the word ‘needs-based’ but what he announced today definitely is not.”
Armstrong said the wait has devastated children and families, ripping away hope that their children may soon get a chance to realize some of their potential — like Stacey Kennedy, whose child with autism has never eaten solid food, and waits and waits for help that’s never arrived.
“Early and consistent supports are critical for children with autism,” said Armstrong. “Kids spent years and years on the waiting list for supports under the Liberals — who had 15 years to fix this program, and chose not to. Now they’ve gone without help for another two years in the face of Doug Ford’s cruel cuts.
“Developmental potential is being squandered and lost. Parents are facing fears that their child may never hit critical milestones in development because this government has, once again, done too little too late. They were cutting autism supports before the pandemic, and it’s clear they don’t want to invest in it now. Children will pay the price for that, for the rest of their lives.”
There are about 42,000 children who need autism services supports. The Ford government’s program will only extend inadequate help to 600 of them now, possibly ramping up to a mere 8,000 kids by the end of 2021, leaving thousands of children to suffer without help.
Nancy Silva-Khan, mother of twins with autism
“$65,000 max for a 20-hour per week max of ABA is not intensive ABA; intensive ABA is six hours per a day for a total of 30 hours a week. This announcement is a 10-hour therapy cut to ABA therapy. They just announced that my kids will lose one-third of their therapy. Since March of last year, my sons have only had three months of in-person therapy — we were hoping that after the pandemic they would recover some of the skills they lost due to regression during the lockdowns. Now they will not get the intensive therapy they need to recover those skills.”
Stacey Kennedy, mother of a child with autism
“Feb. 17, 2021, marks 1,300 days waiting for autism services here in Ontario. It’s announcement, after announcement and no action. I have asked for help every week for years. I have a child who has never eaten food. The health care system refers us to the Ontario Autism Program, which does not exist. A needs-based program should have no age caps, no benchmarks, no decision-making by care coordinators – but by clinical autism professionals. What they announced today was not needs-based.”