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(Canada) Ont: 23,000 children waiting for autism services; new program will shortchange kids

Feb 11, 2019, (Canada) Global News: There is a tsunami headed for the school system’: Autism program changes raise concerns about effects on schools TORONTO – Changes to Ontario’s autism program are raising concerns that thousands of autistic children who will receive fewer hours of therapy will be pushed into schools unable to properly accommodate them. The government announced last week that in order to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for publicly funded autism therapy, families will get up to $140,000 to pay for treatment, though funding will be subject to an annual cap of $20,000 for kids five and under, and $5,000 for kids six to 18. But intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, advocates say. Parents, advocates and some within the school system say if children with autism who are currently in intensive therapy no longer have those costs fully covered, they will be in classrooms before they’ve had the chance to develop necessary skills. That also means already-stretched educational assistant resources will be spread even thinner, they say. “There is a tsunami headed for the school system,” said Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a teacher. “Somewhere out there there’s a kid that’s going to get off the school property that’s going to get seriously hurt or worse. Somewhere there’s going to be a kid that’s going to be restrained for too long and is going to be seriously hurt. There’s an education worker who’s going to set off a kid who goes into a massive meltdown and someone’s going to get really hurt.”… . “There is no replacement for one-on-one, consistent, quiet, individualized learning … About $3 billion is going toward special education in 2018-19, and a spokeswoman said they “will have more to say on further supports in the coming months.” The president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said schools will do their best to serve every child, but there is already a need for more special education funding…. Laura Walton with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 education workers, worries about what will happen when children who have been in intensive therapy start spending more hours in school. … Educational assistants do not receive funding for professional development, said Walton, and many pay out of pocket for training to help them work with children on the autism spectrum. … The unions representing elementary and high school teachers say the government’s new autism program falls short. “A significant increase in the number of specialized support staff in our schools is essential if we want to provide all the support that students with special needs require and deserve,” said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. The government has framed the previous autism program as unfair, as 8,400 children were receiving support while 23,000 waited. But many parents whose children are on the wait list are unhappy with the changes. They say that while the wait was frustrating, at the end their kids would get the therapy they need. …


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