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Ontarian’s fight changes to PC’s New Autism Program

Ontarian’s fight changes to PC’s New Autism Program

Across the province, Parents, Teachers, Students, and therapists are all rallying together in hopes that the Provincial Government will halt changes to OAP (Ontario Autism Program) set to take place April 1st.

On February 6th 2019, the Provincial Government of Ontario and Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services announced a multitude of changes it would be making to the OAP, among the changes are funding provided to each child, financial limitations to entry as well as requirements for each child to participate. The new changes were set to take effect on April 1st 2019.

Since announcing the changes the Ford Government has taken backlash, coming from all angles, which has caused them to slightly backtrack in their model, however for some this is just not enough.

“This is a bandaid on a severed limb”, said Kristin Kowalski, a Behavioural Therapist & Camp Program Coordinator.

“These kids need INTENSIVE therapy at the end of the day, not pity program extensions that are disguised as good deeds”.

“Therapy is $55 an hour. A high needs kid at $55 an hour is going to get 91 hours of therapy in one year. You could potentially need 40 hours of therapy in one week”.

Before the funding was allocated based off a “needs assessment”, however with the new model it would be a one size fits all approach. Many feel this would create havoc for kids as well as a school system ill prepared to adequately support children with autism.

Autism, which is defined as “a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour.” affects an estimated 1/66 children in Ontario that fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum.

Ontario currently has 23 thousand plus kids on the waiting list for the OAP, which the original changes were designed to help, however many feel rather than helping, the new program would be a detriment to all, especially those who are currently enrolled in the program.

“My piece for this puzzle is we should get more ABA therapists and psychiatrists trained in the autism and have ABA (Applied behaviour analysis) mandatory for all schools. If we get the funding there still is an age cap on it and the wait list to access services will still leave the children struggling. These children have human rights and deserve to live to their full potential.” Said Melanie Foxs, Board Director for the OAC (Ontario Autism Coalition).

“it’s affecting all ages and income of the family and we would like to see every child get the funding and therapy that they need for them to reach their full potential. The older children on the spectrum deserve services the same as everyone else. “

The changes would have allocated potentially $5000 a year for kids 7 and older, for kids under 7 there is a potential of $20,000 per year. All and all this amounts to a 331 million dollar plan which is not adequate, especially for those with needs on the higher end of the spectrum. Some therapy will run over $50k in a year with some extremely high needs examples costing over $100k.

Generally boys are diagnosed with autism from ages 2-4 while girls are typically diagnosed from ages 5-8. The age of diagnosis is a general trend in age but can be sooner than that or much later than that. For the children who are diagnosed after 7, obviously this puts a clear limit on the amount of therapy they can receive and can have a long term detrimental effect on their life.

On March 21st the Ontario Provincial Government issued a press release stating some of the further changes.

The news release titled “Ontario Enhancing Support for Children with Autism - New actions include removing income testing for Childhood Budgets and further expanding eligible services”, points out what they hope to accomplish, as well as what they have backtracked on.

“Ontario's government is putting people first by enhancing the Ontario Autism Program, which comes into effect on April 1, 2019.

"Our government is fully committed to transforming how autism services are delivered in Ontario," said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. "The government is working to move all 23,000 children off the waitlist as quickly as possible within the next 18 months."

MacLeod highlighted that one of the enhancements the government is exploring is how best to provide additional supports to families based on the diagnosed needs of their child.

"Parents were right when they said that autism is a spectrum and that there are different needs for children on the spectrum," MacLeod added. "I'll take their input for the next several months to assess how we better support those with more complex needs and provide additional sources of support to them."

The government is working on its previously announced reforms, particularly to ensure all children receive support.

Moving Children Off the Waitlist

The government is working to move all 23,000 children off the waitlist so they have timely access to support.

Children will be brought off the waitlist based on a combination of the time they have been waiting for service, and with a continued focus on early intervention. Considerations will be made for children five years of age and youth 17 years of age to ensure they receive the maximum remaining funding.

The government will explore options to provide children who are currently on the waitlist with Childhood Budgets on a quicker timeline, especially younger children.

To build on previously-announced changes to the program, the government is:

Eliminating Income Testing

All families of children and youth under the age of 18 with a written diagnosis of autism from a qualified professional will now be eligible for a Childhood Budget. Children under the age of six will receive $20,000 annually in direct funding, while those six and over will receive $5,000 annually.

Expanding Eligible Services

Through Childhood Budgets, families will have access to a broader range of eligible services, such as speech language pathology, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy. Full details on eligible services will be posted on the ministry's website in early April.

Smoothing the Transition for Families Receiving Services

All children who currently have an Ontario Autism Program Behaviour Plan will continue to receive the services outlined in that plan until its end date. Families will then be able to renew it for six months at its current level of intensity.

"We continue to work to support children with autism, and their families," concluded MacLeod. "The new Ontario Autism Program with its enhancements is the best possible program Ontario can deliver and it is the only program in the history of our province that will support every single child."

Still even though seen as a step in the right direction, this does not yet suffice for some. Kristin Kowalski states “I speak for myself and on behalf of some professionals, some families, but we remain cautiously optimistic with the latest announcement. It is not the end of this fight, but it appears we are having an influence finally. We will continue to fight as we have been and remain relentless. We wont stop until our kids receive TRULY equitable, NEEDS BASED therapy"


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