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(Canada) Ontario: 50,000 kids on ASD waitlist; $133M for autism by 2025

May 17, 2022, What Ontario's major parties are offering for autism funding Social Sharing https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/autism-funding-provincial-election-platforms-1.6455053

Sophie Barrette had to remortgage her house to come up with the $150,000 she says she's spent on therapy sessions for her four-year-old son Dax.

"My son needs speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and he's been in ABA [applied behaviour analysis] therapy," she said.

Dax has autism and has been on the Ontario Autism Program wait-list for three years to access provincially funded services.

WAIT-LIST HAS DOUBLED

Dax and Travis are just two of more than 50,000 children with autism in Ontario on this wait-list, which has doubled under Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government.

The PCs faced fierce criticism over their changes to the Ontario Autism Program, which aimed to eliminate the wait-list for treatment by sending funding directly to families rather than to regional service providers.

Families are eligible for interim one-time funding, but critics say the money doesn't go far enough as therapies cost around $2,000 per month.

On Sunday, a small crowd gathered to protest in front of PC candidate Lisa MacLeod's constituency office in Nepean. MacLeod, who is running for re-election, was in charge of the file when the government changed the program.

"She made cuts all over the place," said Kate Logue, director of the Ontario Autism Coalition, an organization calling for government-funded therapy, treatment and services for individuals with autism and their families.

"When she started as minister in charge of the file [it] was 23,000 kids [wait-listed]. She blew up the program. They still haven't fixed it," Logue added.

There is no specific mention of autism supports in the 2022 Ontario budget. …

CBC News reached out repeatedly to MacLeod and Merrilee Fullerton, minister of children, community and social services, and to the PC Party, but did not receive any response.

NEW DEMOCRATS PROMISE TO 'FIX THE BROKEN PROGRAM'

An Ontario NDP government would make the province's autism program needs-based with no caps and ensure everyone across the spectrum receives the support and therapies they need to thrive. …

The NDP say they are committing $75 million [$58M] to autism services for 2022-23, an additional $100 million [$78M] the following year, and $125 million [$97M] more in 2024-25. … LIBERALS PROMISE NO NEW MONEY, WOULD SPEND REMAINING $300M

An Ontario Liberal government would implement a needs-based autism program for every child, hire a new special education worker for every school, conduct a comprehensive reform of special education and better transition people into adult services.

The Liberal platform promises the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

"Our next commitment is to do an independent review of autism services so we can learn from the mistakes of the past, as well as reviewing special education across Ontario to make sure it's meeting the needs of students," said Ottawa South Liberal candidate John Fraser.

The Liberals' costed platform does not specifically mention a pledge for autism because they are not promising any "new money," Fraser explained. Instead, the party plans to spend the roughly $300 million that is left in Ontario's budget. …

GREEN PARTY TO INCREASE FUNDING FOR AUTISM SERVICES

Ontario needs to see change in the province's autism program immediately, said Steven Warren, Green Party candidate for Ottawa–West Nepean.

The Greens are promising annual increases of $120 million [$93M] for autism services until 2026.

Sophie Barrette estimates she's spent $150,000 to pay for therapy sessions for her son Dax. (Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC)