To the editor:
Please see my open letter below in response to comments by Brock Township council as reported in the Brock Voice’s April 2 article, Township council supports ‘pause’ on changes to autism program.
The Ontario Autism Program (OAP) that we inherited from the previous government is unfair and unsustainable. Approximately 23,000 children were, and still are, waiting for access to the OAP. This is why we promised to clear the waiting list within 18 months, and to ensure that no child or youth with autism goes without funding.
Recently, the Brock Voice reported that Mayor Debbie Bath-Hadden and Ward 3 Councillor Walter Schummer implied during the April 1 council meeting that the government and I do not care about children with autism and their families. Those claims are completely false, and I am pleased to respond to them here.
My colleagues in government and I have been listening to, and consulting with, parents and caregivers of children with autism. In February, I met with the constituent who requested the Brock Township motion. I heard her son’s story and I listened to her concerns about changes to the OAP. Since then, I have had many similar conversations with other parents about their experiences and our proposed changes to the OAP. My colleagues in government have been doing the same thing.
In response to what we heard, the government announced a series of enhancements to the OAP and we are continuing to consult on other possible changes.
On March 11, Minister of Education Lisa Thompson announced additional funding for students with autism within the school system, as well as training for teachers to support children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Then on March 21, Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services Lisa MacLeod announced enhancements to the OAP for families who are already enrolled in it. Families with children already enrolled will be able to renew their plans for an additional six months. She also announced that the income-test component of the Childhood Budget model will be eliminated.
Earlier this week, our government also announced that public consultations on the OAP will begin in May. An advisory panel will review the results of that consultation when it is over and make recommendations on a new needs assessment process.
We will continue to listen and consult with parents, caregivers, service providers, and educational partners throughout the implementation of these program changes.
MPP for Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock