Sunderland parent wants council’s support to stop changes to Ontario Autism Program

After taking part in protests across the province, a Sunderland parent is taking her fight against changes to the Ontario Autism Program to Brock Township council.

Jill Breugem, who serves as the regional co-ordinator for the Ontario Autism Coalition, is slated to make a presentation to council on April 1.

“I will outline the program and why this has devastating impacts to my family and families around Ontario,” reads a social media post from Breugem.

“I will be asking the Township to pass a motion to request the Premier and the Minister of Community and Social Services suspend implementation of the planned changes to the Ontario Autism Program until meaningful discussions and revisions have been made that are in the best interest of all Ontarians.”

Under the government’s proposed reforms, which were announced in early February and are slated to go into effect on April 1, 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,” Breugem said, noting that many opposing the changes 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.

Bruegem led a protest at area MPP Laurie Scott’s office on Feb. 15 and has taken part in others across the province in recent weeks.


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