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(Canada) "More than 56,000 children have signed up with the Ontario Autism Program"

Oct 10, 2022, CBC News: Pandemic further delays autism support for kids who've spent years on wait lists https://www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6607071

Province says system was 'broken' and it will add 8,000 kids to core services by end of fall Sonja Elliott is in a panic for her son Travis.

The sixth grader was diagnosed with autism four years ago and has been on a wait list for core clinical services from the Ontario government since.

In the meantime, she's paying about $2,100 out of pocket each month for support, but estimates it's still only half what Travis needs. The problem is, therapy centres aren't taking on new kids.

"Every therapist I call ... is a minimum six month wait time. A lot of them are up to a year or even longer."

Some centres in Ottawa have closed their wait list altogether, according to Elliott…. Travis just turned 11.

"I'm petrified that he's going to age out before he even received service," Elliott said, referring to her son reaching an age where he will no longer be eligible for supports.

It's a stress for families that has become more severe through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Parents and advocates say the wait for supports has grown and staffing has shrunk, all while waiting on the province to whittle down its own wait list for funding, which they say is keeping kids from care….

The wait list at Thinking in Pictures Educational Services (TIPES) in Ottawa is generally around 30 kids long and typically takes about three months from sign up to receiving support, said executive director Jennifer Wyatt.

She described the list as something she struggles with daily.

"It's really unfair. They should have access to treatment," Wyatt said of the children who are waiting.

She's seen parents take out a second mortgage on their home to pay for the support their child needs. Others have tapped into an inheritance or asked their extended family for help. Wyatt said she's also watched support costs climb during the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting $178 an hour at some centres.

"How is the average person is supposed to afford that?" she asked….

PROVINCE PROMISED 8,000 KIDS BY END OF FALL

More than 56,000 children have signed up with the Ontario Autism Program (OAP), though the majority have not received core services funding, leaving families to wait or try to cover expensive support on their own.

Most have been given some one-time payments and thousands of others have accessed areas of the program.

Merrilee Fullerton, minister of children, community and social services, pledged to get 8,000 kids into core services by the end of the fall. But as of August, that number was only around 888 and the government has since refused to share its progress, The Canadian Press reported.

In a statement to CBC News, Fullerton's spokesperson Patrick Bissett said the OAP was "broken" when the Progressive Conservatives took over and they've since doubled its funding to $600 million.

The rollout of the program is "progressing well" with 15,269 invitations sent out, he added. Bissett did not respond to requests asking for an updated enrolment number….

"When you're waiting that long, families lose hope. They become more desperate," she said, comparing the waits to "emotional waterboarding."

While her nine-year-old son is with the OAP, her daughter has been on a wait list since she was diagnosed around the age of two. She's now seven.

The family is spending tens of thousands each year to support her, but said they are also running into walls when it comes to availability….

Sonja Elliott says she worries her son will age out before he receives the support he needs for his autism. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

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