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Ford’s Tories trying to put the freeze on kids with autism

Protest against Ford's cuts to support for autistic children
Ken Golden

March 7, 2019

On a bright but cold winter morning, families, therapists and support worker from across the province assembled outside the Ontario to raise their voices in opposition to the Ford Government’s proposed changes to the Ontario Autism Program. Since announcing plans a few weeks ago, there has been a mounting outcry at changes that would devastate families, many of which are already in a state of prolonged crisis.

The Progressive Conservative plan was announced as a way to cut the existing waitlist for support and therapies. However, the medicine is worse that the problem it is intended to solve. Families who are already receiving support will see devastating cuts; many will lose the critical ongoing therapy that they are reliant on for their children and loved ones. For those children who have been waiting on the list, they will no longer have a level of support commensurate to the needs of their child (after waiting patiently). The funding formula will now be based on a low start-up level, it will be age dependant and it will be income tested. All these things are virtually constructed to starve children of the funding they actually need and cut it back if household income happens to be beyond the equivalent of two minimum wage earners. Not only that, but funding will then plummet further for children beyond the age of five!

Lisa MacLeod (Ontario's Minister of Children, Community and Social Services) was caught out recently for bullying one of the therapist associations. Her department also secretly froze therapies back in the fall for families and forbid service agencies from letting parents on the waitlist know. She then tried to deceive citizens and the media about what she had done (effectively inflating the waiting lists and creating a crisis she is pretending to solve).

Because of this state of affairs, families across the province have been actively mobilizing in their communities, outside of MPP offices and online to explain the problems with the government program. The changes are set for April 1st, but there will be no laughing on ‘April Fool’s Day’ when those receiving therapies will have much of their funding severely cut back and families are being provided with almost know information to adapt to the changes; many therapist are also on the threshold of losing their jobs.

Fortunately, the government has been on the defensive from the day they have announced the changes. Parents have mobilized broadly and there are a number of stories coming out in the media about the human toll this will have. The government has very cynically stated that they are trying to clear backlogs on the waiting list, but this is really about finding ways for them to make cuts on the back of some of the most vulnerable Ontarians (some of whom are non-verbal, so literally aren’t able to speak out in their own defense).

It the coming weeks and months we’ll have to push every MMP on this issue and try and force the government to re-examine their changes. April portends a very big looming crisis for both families who have children on the autism spectrum (with kids who have difficulties with social communications, self-regulation, sometimes dressing themselves, eating and living independently), for young people and adults who need support and for many trained therapists who have dedicated themselves to helping. The crisis will also impact a school system that isn’t at all resourced or equipped to handle the support that will be required, as children come off programs their parents will not be able to afford and are forced to put them into the school system.

To learn more about issue, before you contact your local MPP to protest these changes, visit the Ontario Autism Coalition for information and resources


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