Led by a Brock Township resident, more than a dozen people protested impending changes to the Ontario Autism Program at MPP Laurie Scott’s office in Lindsay Friday (Feb. 15).
Under the government’s proposed reforms, which were announced earlier this month, families may receive a budget for treatment until their child turns 18. The amount of the budget will depend on the length of time a child will be in the program, with supports targeted to lower and middle-income families.
But the funding is dependent on age, rather than individual needs.
“For example, a child entering the program at age two would be eligible to receive up to $140,000, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55,000. The reform is expected to clear 23,000 children off the autism waitlist within the next 18 months,” reads a media release from the government.
Advocates say that while the new model may cut down the wait time for treatment, it will result in some parents seeing only a fraction of previous funding.
“The government is pitting people getting treatment against the people on waitlists,” said Jill Breugem, a Sunderland resident and the regional co-ordinator for the Ontario Autism Coalition.
She said the gathered protestors would favour a system where government supports are directly tied to diagnosis.
“I understand that early intervention is important but every child is capable of learning. What we want is equity over equality.”
Breugem’s 10-year-old son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of two.
“Over his life, there’s been six years of waitlists…but I’m protesting for all children. Not just mine,” she said, noting that her son began Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy just seven months ago and has made remarkable progress.
“This is the way he needs to learn in order to thrive,” Breugem said.
“Children on the spectrum have had some great results (with ABA).”
It costs upwards of $5,000 per month – the yearly total the family will receive under the changes proposed by the government.
“Because he is the ripe old age of 10, he will no longer get the therapy that is: helping him to communicate, teaching him basic life skills, teaching him how to regulate his emotions, etc. His future doesn’t matter to this government,” she wrote in a social media post.
“In fact, neither does my future, because the stress and heartache and impact of all of this and what it will cause our family is absolutely devastating.”
It’s not the first time Breugem and other parents have found themselves in this position.
Many also protested changes that were announced in the spring of 2016 by the previous Liberal government, prompting an overhaul.
“Three years ago, we were standing right here,” Breugem said, referencing Scott’s constituency office.
Breugem has booked a meeting with the MPP in Toronto next week and also confronted Premier Doug Ford about the proposed changes during his appearance in Port Perry over the weekend.
“It took us 92 days to get the Liberals’ changes overturned. I have the feeling it’s going to take a lot longer than that with the Ford government.”