Autism panel rec­om­mends re­write of con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram

On­tario could have most ro­bust autism treat­ment pro­gram in Canada rec­om­men­da­tions im­ple­mented


TORONTO — The Ford gov­ern­ment should re­write the prov­ince’s ill-con­ceived autism pro­gram so that children get the ser­vices they need in a timely man­ner re­gard­less of age, ac­cord­ing to a re­port to be re­leased this week from the prov­ince’s expert panel.

Fam­i­lies should re­ceive fund­ing for be­havioural pro­grams as well as other ser­vices such as oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy — though not phys­io­ther­apy — the re­port says. And it urges the gov­ern­ment to en­sure no child di­ag­nosed with autism is forced to sit on a treat­ment wait list without some kind of sup­port, sources fa­mil­iar with the panel’s work told the Toronto Star.

The panel, ap­pointed by the so­cial ser­vices min­is­ter to ad­dress par­ent con­cerns, wrapped up its work Mon­day and the gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to make the re­port public as early as Wed­nes­day.

The re­port lays out a road map for the prov­ince to move to a needs-based fund­ing model, mov­ing away from its orig­i­nal re­vamp that set lim­its de­pend­ing on a child’s age or fam­ily in­come. How­ever, the panel did set some lim­its, or “pa­ram­e­ters,” for ser­vices based on ac­cepted clin­i­cal guide­lines to keep within the $600 mil­lion avail­able in an­nual fund­ing with the goal of help­ing as many kids as pos­si­ble.

“I think a cou­ple of things have been done to ad­dress the bot­tle­neck and to pro­vide some­thing to fam­i­lies while they are wait­ing,” said one source. “That’s been a huge crit­i­cism — you get the di­ag­no­sis, you put your kid on the wait list and you sit and twid­dle your thumbs for four years. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen any­more.”

How­ever, the source said, “there will still be a wait list. They are just not go­ing to sit there with noth­ing.”

If the panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions are im­ple­mented, sources pre­dicted On­tario would have the most ro­bust autism treat­ment pro­gram in the coun­try.

There have been re­ports of fam­i­lies leav­ing On­tario for Al­berta and even New­found­land to ac­cess autism ser­vices for their children.

“I would say a num­ber of op­tions that par­ents re­quested are in­cluded” in what the fund­ing can be used for, said an­other source fa­mil­iar with the panel’s work. “There was an at­tempt to en­sure that the high­est-pri­or­ity ser­vices were cov­ered in this pro­gram.”

The source said that “sci­en­tif­i­cally sup­ported treat­ments” — such as ap­plied be­havioural anal­y­sis (ABA) or in­ten­sive be­havioural in­ter­ven­tion (IBI) ther­a­pies — will come with caps on “in­ten­sity and du­ra­tion” based on an in­di­vid­ual child’s needs.

“Par­ent choice is still there … par­ents will have to ed­u­cate them­selves about what the best sup­port and treat­ments are for their child’s par­tic­u­lar needs,” the source said.

The new pro­gram is ex­pected to be in place by April.

New Demo­crat MPP Monique Tay­lor, her party’s children and youth ser­vices critic, thanked the panel mem­bers for all of the work they put in, “know­ing that it’s been hard and painful to make these de­ci­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions” on such an im­por­tant is­sue.

“We will still con­tinue to look to the gov­ern­ment to make sure kids get all the ser­vices they need, when they need them,” Tay­lor said.

The panel, made up of par­ents, ad­vo­cates, clin­i­cians, aca­demics and adults with autism, met 18 times over the sum­mer and into the fall. It was co-chaired by for­mer Lib­eral so­cial ser­vices min­is­ter Marie Boun­tro­gianni and Marg Spoel­stra, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Autism On­tario.


A re­port on autism fund­ing is to be re­leased this week.

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