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(Canada) Ontario's dramatic cut in autism services leaves parents desperate

Feb 22, 2019, Globe and Mail: School boards and parents brace for Ontario’s changes to the autism program When Stephanie Ridley told her son’s principal this week that he would be returning to school full-time in about a month, they shared a joint fear: “What are we going to do?” It will be radical change for Ewan, 7, who is severely autistic and attends school in Burlington, Ont., only twice a week. He spends the rest of his time receiving intensive treatment at a behavioural-therapy centre, where he’s learning to trace the letters of his name and putting four- or five-word sentences together using software. The Ridleys cannot afford Ewan’s therapy bills, and changes to the autism program recently announced by the Progressive Conservative government will mean the $70,000 they receive a year will be cut to about $5,000 annually. … The changes to the autism program take effect April 1 and will mean families receive a set amount of funding based on age and income. The government says its goal is to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for treatment, within 18 months. Asked this week what steps the government will take to accommodate autistic children in schools, Education Minister Lisa Thompson did not directly address the question. “We are working with our school boards to make sure our proper supports are in place for the classroom,” Ms. Thompson told reporters. “I am absolutely committed to a safe and supportive classroom.” This does little to calm Ms. Ridley’s fears. She said her son is entering a “black hole" after being on a wait-list for therapy for three years and then finally receiving it since 2016. … Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, declined to do an interview with The Globe and Mail. She defended the changes to the autism program in the legislature this week, as parents of autistic children staged protests at constituency offices and attended Question Period to express their frustration. Ms. MacLeod said the decision to change the program “stands.” The program will now be funded based on age and household income, with families earning up to $250,000 eligible for funding. But only those with a household income of $55,000 or less will be eligible for the full amount. Until age 6, children will be eligible for $20,000 a year; after that, they can receive up to $5,000 a year until age 18. But parents say some treatments cost up to $80,000 a year. “Our goal in the ministry is to ensure that we support as many children as possible," Ms. MacLeod told reporters this week. …


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