Approximately 1 in 66 children in Canada are affected by autism.
Because healthcare is a provincial responsibility how we provide care for people with autism is primarily determined by provincial policy.
“The clinical model defines autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, as a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them. It can affect body language and posture, social interactions and relationships, how you engage with your interests, and sensory processing capacities. Autism exists in all cultures, ethnicities, races, and gender identities. Autism exists on a spectrum, which means that while all people on the spectrum will experience some of the differences mentioned above, the degree to which each autistic person experiences them and the amount of support they need, will vary.”
The Ontario Autism Program (OAP) has been going through such prolonged and reckless reconstruction over the past four years, that it has left more than 50,000 families in Ontario on a waitlist for assistance. The pandemic has seen families deal with longer wait times and many therapies unavailable due to their up-close nature. Often assistance only reaches the families who have the resources to fight and persevere.
After two challenging years, families need a solid plan that reflects their needs. Yet to date, only 645 randomly selected families have been invited to participate in the Province’s latest draft.
Read more in this CBC article on the experiences of children and teens with autism and their families during the first year of the pandemic.
The Financial Accountability Officer revealed on Nov 29, 2021 that Doug Ford withheld $137 million of planned spending on the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). Source.
Between 2019 and 2021 no new kids with autism received any treatment. Read more here.
Some of the changes advocates are seeking
- Early diagnosis and assessment
- Access to funding and therapies based on needs rather than age
- Flexible funding with no hard caps
- Thoughtful prioritization of eligible services, and evidence based therapies
- Regulation of clinicians
- Standardized rates and direct billing
- Increase the number of qualified practitioners
- Support for autistic students in schools
- Support for all autistic people in the healthcare system
- Create a supportive and inclusive Ontario for autism
- Support local collaboration between school boards and community service providers
Read the full recommendations from Ontario Autism Coalition and Autism Ontario.
“Feb. 17, 2021, marks 1,300 days waiting for autism services here in Ontario. It’s announcement after announcement and no action. I have asked for help every week for years. I have a child who has never eaten food. The health care system refers us to the Ontario Autism Program, which does not exist. A needs-based program should have no age caps, no benchmarks, no decision-making by care coordinators – but by clinical autism professionals. What they announced today was not needs-based.” Stacey Kennedy, mother of a child with autism, quoted in a February, 2021, NDP media release
What are the parties saying about autism?
The current Ontario Autism Program is a four year work in progress by the Ford government. In February 2019 they announced a plan to provide funding to autistic children in Ontario under the age of 18, based on their age and family income. The flat-rate plan was wasteful, because it didn’t consider key factors like a child’s level of need, or availability of services in their area. In 2019, income testing was removed and a few additional services became eligible for funds. One-time funding was offered to children based on their age, and the Province indicated that needs-based programming would be reinstated.
Today some children, ‘Legacy Kids’ are still on the pre-2018 Liberal OAP. Some children have aged out of the program while waiting, and received nothing. Other families received inadequate one-time funding and don’t know what to do next. And there are still some on a waitlist to be notified when they may apply for the one-time funding offered back in 2019.
In February 2021, the Province announced a Pilot Program for a new needs-based funding model. Ontario would invite 600 children to be assessed by a care coordinator, and they would be assigned funds for set a number of hours of therapy. With the election approaching, they are now calling this a “soft launch” yet in over a year only 645 children have had access.
Advocates have attempted to inform and advise this government for four years. Ford’s ministries have not shown any interest in listening to the affected families, and the research done by their advocacy groups. The lack of responsible policy making has turned the pursuit of support into a fight. The inequity in the current system is unsustainable.
- Will implement a needs-based Ontario Autism Program for every child, including Applied Behavioural Analysis, occupational therapy, mental health and speech and language pathology
- Will hire 5,000 more special education workers and reduce wait times for school services for students with autism
- Will implement a direct billing option for autism therapy
- Will conduct a comprehensive reform of special education and better transition people into adult services
Read the full Liberal Policy Statement Here
- Resolves to fight for consistent, evidence-based and government-funded therapies
- Endorses ongoing research into autism supports
- Recognizes each individual with autism experiences different challenges, and requires unique supports
NDP MPP Monique Taylor, critic for Children and Youth Services: “Autism doesn’t end at 18, and the government must consult with adults on the spectrum, to ensure they have access to the appropriate educational, training and therapeutic supports. Policies cannot be designed without their input…Let’s do the work to make sure our communities and institutions are accessible, inclusive and accepting of those who are not neuro-typical.”
Read NDP press releases on autism services here and here.
- Support reducing wait times
- Early intervention
- Needs based funding
- Removal of age cap
- Increasing availability of services, incentivising post secondary students to become certified providers
- Increasing funding to non-profit providers
Read Green Party statements on autism services here, here and here.
Independent Candidate: Tony Stravato
Durham Region’s Tony Stravato is running independently, motivated by the Ford government’s failure to address the needs of Ontario’s autistic children.
Read Tony’s Statement on why he’s running here.
As in other policy areas, the difference between the Conservatives – with their disregard for the realistic and immediate needs of the community – and the other parties, is greater than the differences in policy between the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals. Furthermore, because the most likely outcomes of this election are a Conservative majority or a coalition of the other parties, you should vote for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
The policies of all the other parties clearly reflect that they are paying attention to what the advocates have been asking for.
All of the other parties support needs-based funding, directly addressing the fact that all autistic children and their families are unique, and their current needs are not being met when policies are defined by age and income. For this reason, we strongly recommend voting for whichever candidate is most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
Projections based on ridings are available here: https://338canada.com/ontario/districts.htm Click through to your riding to see which party is more likely to beat the Conservatives where you live.
The Ontario Liberals have recognized the need for direct billing which would see autism practitioners paid directly by the government, similar to OHIP. If your policy preference includes an overhaul of infrastructure including better access to special education supports in schools, you should vote Liberal.
The Ontario NDP recognizes that research into autism supports is ongoing, and policies need to be developed in consultation with autistic adults. Inclusivity is a key to developing sustainable community supports. If your policy priorities include building on our understanding and integrating acceptance of neurodivergent individuals, you should vote NDP.
Groups and Additional Resources
Autism Ontario has local chapters, and representatives on the SEAC of local school boards
Provincial Election Advocacy Toolkit (from Autism Ontario)
OAP qualified providers
Ontario Autism Coalition
MPP Meeting Resource Kit from the Ontario Autism Coalition
Equity and Integrity: A Plan To Reform The Ontario Autism Program
Ontario Human Rights Commission Guidelines on Accessible Education
CASDA Policy Compendium: Recommendations for a National Autism Strategy
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance