July 13, 2023, Globe and Mail: Children with autism at risk from Ontario’s years-long therapy wait-lists https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-children-with-autism-at-risk-from-ontarios-years-long-therapy-wait/
Nearly 100,000 children in Ontario face years-long waits for publicly funded physical, occupational and speech therapy, putting many of them at risk of lifelong problems with communication, mobility and other essential life functions, according to the chief executive officer of Empowered Kids Ontario, an organization that represents public therapy centres.
Many of the children on the province’s wait-list for these services have autism, or are awaiting a diagnosis. The CEO, Jennifer Churchill, said there is an urgent need to provide the system with more funding to reduce the lengthy delays facing tens of thousands of families.
The wait-list is maintained by individual therapy centres, and not the provincial government. It is distinct from another Ontario wait-list for core clinical services for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. That list is maintained by the Ontario government, but officials will not disclose its size. Advocates such as the Ontario Autism Coalition have said it has ballooned to more than 60,000 children, and that families are being forced to wait years for funded treatments. Some children may be on both lists.
Delays and access barriers for autism-related diagnoses and treatments are an issue in many parts of Canada.
On Tuesday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that his government will give up to $500,000 to the Autism Alliance of Canada to help it develop a national network that would support the implementation of a national autism strategy.
Child health experts and advocates say Ontario’s system is facing a particularly acute crisis, in part because of the province’s 2019 decision to overhaul the way families apply for and receive funding for essential therapies.
Instead of relying on physicians to refer patients to publicly funded community therapists, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government opted to create a market-based system. Now, a family has to wait for a diagnosis, apply for funding, undergo a lengthy process to determine how much money is needed for their child, find a therapy provider, and then use the funding to pay them directly….
But she added that the system is overwhelmed and underfunded. As a result, she said, many autistic children are missing the critical window for early intervention, which can have lifelong impacts….
Dr. Kraus de Camargo said children in Ontario often have to wait two years before they can even receive autism diagnoses, because there aren’t enough pediatricians to meet the demand. He added that the move to a system where parents have to find a therapist for their child, instead of having a physician referral, makes it harder for some children to get the care they need. …
In Ontario, autism is overseen by the province’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. The ministry said in a statement that the government has invested $660-million in Ontario’s current autism program, and that under it more children and youth will receive needs-based support “than ever before in Ontario.” But the ministry declined to say how many children are on the wait-list for core clinical services, or what is being done to address the backlog….
“I don’t think the average Canadian understands what a different lifestyle special needs families have,” Ms. Cameron said.
“It takes years off your life, living in chronic stress,” she added. “It’s not just the stress about the moment, it’s the stress of knowing that there’s something out there and you can’t access it for your child. You feel like it’s your fault and it’s not.”