On Monday, changes to autism funding go in effect in Ontario, and the people that are directly affected, the parents of children with autism, are not pleased. Several of them gathered in front of Guelph City Hall Friday evening to express their anger, disappointment, and hope that someone – especially the current Provincial government – listen to their concerns.
Local parents of autistic children organized an event called “Leave No Child Behind”, a vigil for the Guelph and Area Autism Community. Over two dozen parents, grandparents and supporters gathered in Market Square to share stories of success, and concerns about the future in the wake of changes to funding for autism therapies that go into effect on April 1.
Tony Thompson, who’s son Oliver is on the autism spectrum, echoed what a lot of parents said, that they’ve never sought to become political activists, but they have been turned into activists in order to get more help for their children.
“I’ve always had a degree of trust in government that whatever party’s in charge had an actual plan and methodology to make our lives better as Ontarians, and as Canadians,” Thompson said.
“This autism funding change is not supported in evidence. None of the regional healthcare providers support this change, none of the autism advocacy programs support this change, and none of the professional organizations support this change, so why is it actually happening?” Thompson asked. “We have an indefensible policy change, and when we push the minister on this indefensible policy, we get back a random, rotating sample of four talking points. I believe you could replace [Lisa MacLeod] with a robot.”
Thompson expressed frustration because it seemed like the current PC government threw out an imperfect plan from the previous Liberal government for one that brings in new and unique problems to autism funding.
“This is not the way to run a province, this is not the way to run a country,” he added.
In February, the Provincial government announced that the current needs-based system will be replaced with a per-child cap on funding. For kids older than six, that means a cap of $5,000 per year, while children six and under will get $20,000 in annual funding.
Parents have noted that many children with autism require tens of thousands of dollars in therapy every year, but Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, has argued that funding has to go further in order to offer help to thousands of Ontario kids on a wait list for therapy and support.
“Almost three out of every four children who require autism supports continue to be stranded on waitlists due to the cynicism and incompetence of the previous government,” said MacLeod at the February announcement. “The parents of these children have told me they are feeling abandoned. We cannot, in good conscience, continue treating these parents and children like lower-class citizens, so we are introducing reforms to provide them with the fairness and equality they deserve.”
The Government of Ontario has since eliminated a means test that would limit access to the full funds for families with a net income of $55,000 or less, while families with a net income over $55,000 would be subject to a sliding scale of funding up to $250,000. All other changes are proceeding, and will go into effect on Monday.
Mark Bernardino, President of the Wellington local of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said that the provincial government has put parents through “two months of hell” and that there wasn’t enough help to go around before the Ontario government instituted their changes back in February.
“We love all your children and we want what’s best for every child in Ontario,” said Bernardino. “We know how hard you’re working everyday, I have a nephew and I’ve seen the difference therapy’s made. He’s in grade 8 right now, and I would hate to see what no help looks like.”
“We stopped the stigma, we allowed people to come forward, and there are some of us teachers that still need to be educated, but we’re here, we love all our children that come to us, we love Ontario, and we can’t sit back,” he added.
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner address the vigil and promised that he will not give up the fight to get more assistance to kids with autism, and their families.
“We’re not going to give up on the investments in our schools, and we’re going to ensure that our teachers and our schools have the support and people in place so that every child with autism receives the schooling they deserve,” Schreiner said.
“The government has focused so much on direct funding, but we also have to make sure that we have programs available for everyone, and models that work for every family so that they can choose what works best for them,” Schreiner added.