Autism program overhaul – not everyone agrees

As with any debate, there are always two sides to the story … more often than not, three with the truth somewhere in the middle.
According to the provincial government in an announcement today, it is bringing relief to 23,000 children and their families who are currently languishing on a wait-list for autism services.
Parliamentary Assistant Amy Fee and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod, outlined the widespread reforms to the Ontario Autism Program that, according to them, will restore fairness, equality, and sustainability to the program.
“The Ontario government invests $321M each year in autism supports that under the current system leave three out of four children behind,” said Macleod. “I cannot in good conscience continue this Liberal plan that was more about politics than the people it should be supporting.”
“These are improvements that have been long overdue,” said Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson. “Autism hits close to home for every community across our province and ours is no exception. I have spoken to many families in Huron-Bruce and have heard their stories of frustration as they wait for assistance.”
Although according to the government’s proposed reforms, the wait-list for funding will be cleared in 18 months; people will be treated with fairness and equality; the system will become more financially sustainable and more accountable; and there will be a guarantee that supports will be there for families with the greatest need, now and well into the future, there are those who differ.
With the proposed changes, families may receive a Childhood Budget from age two until their child turns 18 for a maximum of $140,000. 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. Again, according to the government, these changes will ensure that every child will receive assistance, rather than just 25% of families who currently receive support.
PC staffer, Bruce McIntosh, who is also former President of the Ontario Autism Coalition, disagreed with the government changes to the point that he resigned today over those changes saying they were a “huge disappointment” and that his advice against age-based funding was ignored.

In a CBC radio interview, McIntosh and is wife, Laura, said that, despite offering to help design the policy, the government did not listen.

McIntosh and his wife Laura are parents of two autistic children and say that the overhauled program is not equitable.  Although McIntosh admitted that the Coalition had advocated for direct family funding that the government is implementing, there are differences in the level of autism.  There may be children who need more intensive therapy compared to others.  Therefore, those who require more intensive treatment will not have the sustainable funding given the cap of $140,000.
“The government has made a terrible mistake in their decision to give the same amount of money to every kid with an autism diagnosis,” McIntosh said. “It ignores need. And that means that kids at the high needs end of the spectrum — the high intensity kids — are not going to have enough money to pay for what they require, and the families at the low end are going to have more than they need.”
Laura McIntosh said that the ” ,,,, Liberals tried to cap at age 6 and then 5 … now funding is based on age again.  Needs continue as these children grow into adults.  Children are not looked at as individuals. Looking at the cap on funding of $140,000 to age 18, when two years of intensive therapy is between $50,000 and $70,000 annually, it means that the cap of $140,000 would be eaten up in two years.  Then what?”
Laura McIntosh said that the Coalition would like to see a consistent rate care implemented as it is in the United States where all treatment is costed the same.  “We agree that a lot of money was once wasted when funding had to go through providers however, this is not the answer.”