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Ford government announces reversal of contentious autism program

Last Updated Jul 29, 2019 at 11:13 am EDT


The Ford government says it will now provide families with needs-based autism funding, not a set amount based on age

The new needs-based strategy will be based on advice from a 20-member Autism Advisory Panel

In the meantime, families will continue to be given childhood budgets to bring more children off the wait list

The Ford government is changing direction on its contentious autism program, Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services Todd Smith announced Monday.

Smith said that the new strategy will provide families with needs-based support as opposed to the current program that sees families receive a set amount of funding based on their child’s age.

“We have listened. We have learned,” Smith said. “It is clear to me we did not get it right. We will now.”

When asked by CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan what a needs-based autism program will look like and whether children who need up to $80,000 will get it, Smith said he did not know yet.

Watch the full announcement below:

In a release, the ministry elaborated saying the strategy will be based on advice from their 20-member Autism Advisory Panel that includes parents of children with autism, clinicians, service providers, autism self-advocates and former public servants among others. The panel has been asked to develop recommendations for a needs-based program with the goal of helping as many children as possible.

The group is to base its recommendations on results from online surveys, telephone town halls and written submission along with evidence and science based data. The panel is expected to submit its advice by the end of the summer.

To ensure there are no gaps in service for children with autism, the government says families will continue to receive their current services under the Ontario Autism Program Behaviour Plan until its end date. Thereafter they can renew their plan for a second six-month extension at the current level of intensity, or less if appropriate.

In the meantime, as they develop the new needs-based program, the government says they will still work to bring children off the wait list by continuing to issue childhood budgets to families.

This change comes after months of protests from parents and an internal review that called for a reset of the strategy.

In February, the government announced a massive overhaul of the autism program which would cover more children, but offer them each less therapy. Each child was to get the same funding –- regardless of where they fall on the autism spectrum. Their individual budgets were to be capped at $20,000 a year per child under the age of six and $5,000 a year for ages six to 18.

The changes were met with severe backlash because of the “one size fits all” approach — children who need intense care can require $80,000 worth of therapy a year.

At the time, the government said only 8,400 children were receiving funding for therapy, while 24,000 children have been languishing on the wait list and the overhaul was necessary to clear it.

Smith said full details of a new needs-based autism strategy will be shared by the end of the fall.