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.