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Ontario Autism Program advisory panel taps Waterloo expert

CBC News with Janet McLaughlin 30 May 2019

A Waterloo researcher has been chosen to sit on a provincial advisory panel that will weigh in on the Ontario Autism Program.

Dr. Janet McLaughlin, an associate professor of health studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, is one of 20 people on the panel, which includes parents, clinicians, self-advocates and service providers.

The provincial government announced in April it would consult with parents of children with autism, after backlash over changes to the funding model for autism treatment and services.

The panel will examine the feedback given through telephone town halls and an online survey as well as provide recommendations to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services by September 2019.

McLaughlin has a young son with autism and has conducted research on the impacts of autism therapy and education services on family well-being.

In an email to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, McLaughlin said she plans to bring her perspective as both a parent and a researcher to advocate for needs-based therapy.

“My views on this have always been quite clear, and my own child has benefited significantly from a needs-based therapy program,” McLaughlin wrote.

“My hope is that all committee members will strive to be as objective and open-minded as possible in examining the input of parents, advocates, experts, and other stakeholders, and will be guided by evidence-based best practices.”

The provincial government first sparked controversy in February when it announced the changes to the Ontario Autism Program, giving families a set amount of money annually for therapies depending on a child’s age.

The province has said its goal is to eliminate the backlog of children waiting for a diagnosis and government-funded treatment.

But the changes, which took effect in April, were criticized by parents and service providers who have argued the funding available does not cover the cost of therapies.

“I look forward to the expertise of our panel members to help ensure that our needs-based component improves outcomes for children and youth with autism,” said Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod  in a media release.