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(Canada) Ontario: Autism waitlist doubles; some wait 3 to 5 yrs for services

May 17, 2022, Autism advocates want a change in government on June 2

Local autism advocates say they’re non-partisan, but after witnessing the waitlist for services for youths double to more than 52,000 during Doug Ford’s time as premier, they’re urging supporters to not vote Progressive Conservative

With the waitlist for the Ontario Autism Program roughly doubling to more than 52,000 children during the past four years of Progressive Conservative rule, local advocates are pushing back.

Planted outside of the Sudbury home of the Ritchie/Staddon family is a sign that reads “Ford doubled the autism waitlist…”

“If someone comes to your door and is canvassing, ask them questions,” said family matriarch Julia Ritchie, who alongside husband Sean Staddon is raising two children with autism; June, 7, and Charles, 5.

Although the Ontario Autism Coalition behind the sign campaign is non-partisan in nature, the Ritchie/Staddon household also has a sign for Sudbury NDP candidate Jamie West on their front yard in hopes of assisting his campaign in the June 2 provincial election….

The anti-Progressive Conservative bend comes as a result of what advocates have done to autism programming in Ontario during the party’s tenure.

Although perceived shortcomings in the province’s autism programming date back to the Ontario Liberal Party’s time in power, the wait list for services jumped from 23,000 children to more than 52,000 under Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford. This, despite the Progressive Conservatives pledging early in their tenure that the changes they were making to the program would help clear the waitlist.

Ritchie’s daughter, June, has been on the waitlist since 2017, while Charles has been on the waitlist since 2019.

The province recently introduced a one-time lump funding of $20,000 for children aged one to five and $5,000 for children aged six to 17, which Ontario Autism Coalition board member Sara Kitlar-Pothier described as a “waitlist stipend.”

“It really was kind of hush money,” she said, adding that applying the same blanket amount of funding to all kids with autism doesn’t make much sense for a condition with a wide spectrum in which people can have very different needs.

“Some need a whole lot more, and some need less, so these budgets were wasteful,” she said. “The support needs that you have don’t go away at that age, so it’s an arbitrary age that they’ve set up for those budgets.”…

In addition to the Ontario Autism Coalition sign campaign, the coalition is also organizing a Letter to Your Neighbour campaign wherein people are encouraged to help inform their neighbours about how shortcomings in the Ontario Autism Program have affected them.

The organization has sold out of lawn signs, but have published a .pdf version of the sign online that people can download and print off to help spread the word.

The Ontario Autism Coalition is also hosting a “Day of Action” rally in front of the Swiss Chalet at Barrydowne Road and Lasalle Boulevard on May 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Local provincial candidates respond

After a few years of advocating for autism supports, Sudbury NDP candidate Jamie West said that it’s clear to him it won’t be an overnight fix.

“We need to go back to the basics and provide what they’ve been advocating from the beginning, which is needs-based funding, and have the experts who work in the field determining for us the best therapies, the best ways for these kids to be the best that they can be and provide the funding for it,” he said. …

“As a former principal of a school with many special needs kids, when you put someone in a school that is dedicated to special needs, the services and the programming goes up astronomically,” he said. “We need to create more capacity to deal with the backlog.”…

The Ritchie/Staddon family has joined others throughout the province in striving to make autism services an election issue in the June 2 provincial election. From left is Sean Staddon, June Staddon, Charles Staddon and Julia Ritchie. Tyler Clarke/


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