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Autism families and supporters plan protest at local PC MPP’s office

The Record with Janet McLaughlin 08 March 2019

Families and supporters impacted by the provincial government’s recent decision to overhaul the Ontario autism program will gather in a peaceful protest to demonstrate their opposition to these changes.

In an effort to shorten wait times for services, the Ford government’s newly unveiled autism strategy limits children who are below the age of six to a maximum of $20,000 a year worth of supports, and those who are six or over to $5,000 annually.

These amounts will be further reduced or eliminated for families with incomes higher than $55,000 a year. Yet, autism is a spectrum with a wide variety of needs, and some children who are severely impacted require intensive therapy of $60,000-80,000 a year. “For them, this amount is a drop in the bucket that will not provide the level of support they need to make gains in areas such as self-help, social skills, communication, toileting and safety,” explains Dr. Janet McLaughlin, an affected parent and Wilfrid Laurier University professor who teaches and researches in the area of autism policy.

“Autism is a spectrum with some children requiring very little support, and others requiring intensive support for years, to thrive,” said McLaughlin. “A one-size-fits-all strategy is absolutely the wrong approach to address the needs of this diverse community.”

The protest will be attended by parents whose children will be cut off from services with only a couple of months’ notice, as well as those who are still on the waiting list.

Attending in Kitchener, mother Kristen Visser has a child with autism whose therapy funding will be cut.

“Our daughter has come such a long way in the last few years because of the IBI therapy she has received,” Visser said. “Because of that and the one on one intensive therapy she has been able to receive, she is now in ABA therapy at 15 hours a week, she can communicate, do many things independently and even go to school. But she still needs to receive therapy and without it, the thought of regression haunts me. There is no way we will be able to afford her therapy on this new OAP plan. It would allow for an hour a week in a group setting rather than 15 hours in more of a one on one atmosphere. Ella has shown me just how important the proper therapy, on a needs based level is. I continue to fight for my daughter and all the other kids who have yet to find their voice and deserve to do the things that we take for granted.”

The Ford government is framing the announcement as a “win” for waitlisted families.

Local mother Jennifer St-Pierre has a five-year-old daughter who has been waiting almost two years for autism therapy.

“The new program essentially ensures she will never get a shot at the therapy that she needs,” said St-Pierre. “The old program was broken, but so is the new one.”

“The Ford government’s damaging changes to the Ontario Autism Program cut services from children and leave families fending for themselves,” said Kitchener-Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo. “Children deserve a comprehensive, evidence-based autism strategy that takes individual needs into account – not age or family income. I will be at the rally in solidarity with families to bring their stories and lived experiences to Queen’s Park. As an official opposition MPP I am ready to fight

“Families of children with autism have waited too long for a comprehensive autism program that ensures their children reach their potential,” said Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife. “People should expect more from their government, not less. Instead of their one-size-fits-all approach, the Ford government needs to create a more flexible and family-friendly system that is focused on the needs of children.”

The protest will take place March 8 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.