Ontario Autism Program changes are bad policy and set the stage for crisis

For Immediate Release

Autism Canada’s statement in response to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services announcement regarding changes to the Ontario Autism Program. 

Try Again, Minister MacLeod

Ontario Autism Program changes are bad policy and set the stage for crisis 

February 25, 2019 (Toronto) As a dedicated advocate for Canada’s autistic community and their families, Autism Canada is concerned that the Ontario provincial government’s plan to restructure Ontario’s Autism Program (OAP) is a dangerously flawed policy that will negatively impact autistic children and youth, their families and the broader community at large.

The plan, as stated by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, is misinformed, disingenuous and vague.  It has thrown the autism community into crisis and the resulting impact will be felt across health, education and social services in Ontario for years to come.

The consultation process was flawed and not collaborative.  Informed and expert input was disregarded, and stakeholders were bullied into, or misrepresented as, supporting the government’s position.  

Minister Lisa MacLeod has stated that the changes, which include capping funding for services based on age and income and providing a ‘flat funding’ model not based on need, will reduce the waitlist for services.  But, we contend that the challenges facing autistic kids and their families are not simply about a waitlist, they are about adequate service capacity and funding to meet an individual’s needs. 

Dermot Cleary, Chair of Autism Canada, says, “It is a failed policy that does not address individual needs, but determines funding instead based on the age of the child or the parents’ income.  We do not do this for other health services.  We do not limit how many doctor visits or how much medical care a person gets a year based on their age or their income.  Why treat those with autism differently?”

“When kids with autism get the essential services they need, such as speech, occupational and behaviour therapy, they can thrive,” says Lisa Boccaccio, Board Member, Autism Canada. “Not providing these services adequately only pushes costs to the community downstream.”  

With only five weeks to implement the new plan and few substantive details provided, the province’s new plan for Ontario families living with autism is a crisis waiting to happen.  

In addition to removing the caps on autism funding and services based on age and income, Autism Canada recommends:

1) The creation of a cross-ministerial secretariat to coordinate autism supports in the province; for example, between the Ministries of Education, Social Services and Health.

Having a single point of entry and coordination of services for autism families would reduce bureaucracy, duplication, confusion, costs and streamline services. This would also enable more service delivery within schools – a repeated request of autism families that has never been tackled. 

2) Autism should be framed as a health issue.  Autism is a complex, neuro-developmental disorder, not a learning disability nor a behavioural problem.  

The needs of children with autism are also medical, not just ‘social’ or ‘educational.’  Essential health services for those with autism, which includes speech, occupational and psychological therapies, should be treated as a right, not a luxury.  Health services for autism should not be conditional and subject to the whims of each new government.  

Autism Canada urges Minister MacLeod to sit down with stakeholders and experts in autism and find a new way forward.  Try again, Minister.

For media inquiries, please contact:
Susan Watts (susan@autismcanada.org)
Chantale Pomerleau (chantale@autismcanada.org)


About Autism Canada

Autism Canada is the only autism advocacy organization with a national perspective on the issues currently facing those with autism spectrum disorder, their families and other stakeholders. We work collaboratively to share expertise, build consensus and help inform public policy and research. In addition to encouraging the sharing of best practices across provincial and territorial boundaries, Autism Canada actively promotes national dialogue on the most effective strategies for building equitable access to funding and services.

To learn more, please visit www.autismcanada.org.

About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or autism, is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder causing most individuals to experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. There is also a markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests. With an estimated 1 in 66 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental condition.