Parents of autistic children rally to highlight critical problems with Ontario’s program

Parents of children with autism protested at Queen's Park to draw attention to delays in therapy and problems in special education affecting autistic children. As Tina Yazdani reports, the waitlist to access core autism services has grown to 60,000.

By Tina Yazdani

Parents of autistic children were at Queen’s Park to highlight the critical problems with the autism program introduced by the Ford government when they first took office.

The waitlist to access core autism services has doubled since the Premier was elected and those in the crowd call the current system for children a failure.

“The government lied to all the parents in Ontario. We are not supposed to be standing here right now,” said Ryan Davies, a parent of a 7-year-old child who is autistic.

 “As a result of their actions and inaction we have been forced to become the entire medical system for our kids, by ourselves. We are speech pathologists, we are doctors, we are occupational therapists, we are everything. And we are tired. We are so tired.”

Another parent of an autistic 4-year-old, Robert Russo, said his child has been on the waitlist for about two years.

“When we hear about a child with a disability, it doesn’t mean they’re disabled for life. It means they need extra support at the beginning of their lives. And unfortunately, what’s happening right now is, although we are being told that the government is helping, the wool is being pulled over our eyes a little bit. Parents are not getting the type of assistance that they claim.”

Recent data shows that the number of children with autism receiving publicly funded, needs-based core therapy in Ontario appears to have only now returned to the level it was at five years ago before changes by the Progressive Conservative government upended the system, new figures suggest.

Documents obtained through a freedom-of-information request show that as of mid-July there were 8,758 children whose families had a signed funding agreement for core therapy services.

There are about 60,000 children seeking services through the program and about 7,000 more are added to the list each year.

In 2019, the Ford government tried to revamp the former Liberal government’s autism program, promising to clear the waitlist with 23,000 children on it.

“They promised to clear the waitlist and they in fact tripled the waitlist. So, children who are diagnosed now are looking at least a five- to seven-year waitlist,” said Jodie Craig, a parent who adds this government has created a program where early intervention is not possible. 

The file has faced several setbacks and delays and is on its fourth minister in as many years. The current Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Michael Parsa, said they have doubled the program’s budget this year to over $690 million. 

“We are going to continue to find ways to make sure we provide more support for children youth and families across the province,” said Parsa.

That budget will only fund 20,000 children for core clinical therapies, according to the government’s records.

“It has gone from bad to even worse,” said Laura Walton. “Parents are struggling to get supports for their kids and we need to come together as workers, as parents, as communities and demand better for these folks.”

Some parents at the rally were disappointed that more people didn’t come together as the crowd was relatively small.

“I’m a little hurt. I don’t think from a political perspective that this crowd is going to call the attention of the premier,” said Russo. “We have to decide as a society: Do we care? Can we come out and support other parents whose children are disabled … this can happen to any of us.” 

CityNews reached out to the Premier’s office but did not receive a response.

With files from The Canadian Press

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