Ontario moves to widen access to autism services

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The Ontario government has announced that it is expanding autism services in the province to 23,000 children and their families who are currently on a waitlist for autism services. Last week, Parliamentary Assistant Amy Fee and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod provided details of the reforms to the Ontario Autism Program that they say “will restore fairness, equality, and sustainability to the program”.

Minister McLeod pointed out that “The Ontario government invests $321 million each year in autism supports that under the current system leave 3 out of 4 children behind. I cannot in good conscience continue this Liberal plan that was more about politics than the people it should be supporting.”

Local M.P.P., Steve Clark added his thoughts on the initiative: “We are taking action to improve access to services and supports so more families of children and youth living with autism can receive fair and balanced service.”

The joint announcement by Ms. McLeod and Ms. Fee noted that, under the government’s proposed reforms, the waitlist for funding will be cleared in 18 months, and that, they intend for people to be “treated with fairness and equality, the system will become more financially sustainable, make the system more accountable and to guarantee that supports are there for families with the greatest need, now and well into the future”.

With the proposed changes, families may receive a Childhood Budget until their child turns 18. Supports will be targeted to lower and middle-income families. The amount of the budget will depend on the length of time a child will be in the program. For example, a child entering the program at age two would be eligible to receive up to $140,000, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55,000. These changes will ensure that every child will receive assistance, rather than just 25% of families who currently receive support.

To be eligible for the Ontario Autism Program, a child must have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder from a qualified professional. Families are eligible to apply for program funding for children and youth up to age 18. According to government statistics, there are over 2,400 families waiting for a diagnostic assessment at the moment, and more than 23,000 families waiting for behavioural services through the Ontario Autism Program, with demand continuing to grow.

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