Autism Funding Changes Causing Fear Amongst Many (April 2019)

Some significant changes are coming to Ontario. With changes in programs such as OSAP funding and Health care, some people are feeling that their world has been turned upside down. That is the same for parents with youth who have autism. On February 6, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod outlined some significant changes that pertained to funding patterns with families with children who have autism. Those changes are set to be implemented on April 1. The changes primarily come in a system that focuses on age and family income and not on individual need. That means that families who have children that need extensive treatment and fall outside of the age limit, children under the age of six get $20,000 a year than $5,000 a year until the age of 18, and make more money, that means that they will lose out on funding.

The government is also shrinking the number of intake agencies in the province from nine to one. So that one independent agency will handle all autism cases and financial assistance for the entire province. The government also introduced new plans to find out how children are being assessed and diagnosed. The idea is to clear the wait list for people trying to get into one of the intake agencies. These changes have been met with backlash from concerned parents and advocates of the autism Ontario program. Their concerns hinge on how quickly these changes are being implemented and how freewheeling the policy is when it comes to who gets funding. 

“The biggest concern that I see with these changes is the arbitrary age limits for funding. Dropping funding to $5,000 at age six without any other information is ludicrous,” says Shawna White, a parent of a child who has autism. She also adds that the previous system helped her son become a productive member of society. “He didn’t start speaking until the age of five and made incredible strides from ages 6 to 8. Had we only received $5,000 in funding he wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Under the previous system, once a child and their family would make it to the top of the waitlist, they would have all of their payments made by the province. The old program initially had an age limit imposed that only had ages of two to five would be able for intensive therapy. That policy was changed after pressure from families who protested against it arguing that children who have autism, need treatment long past the age of five. Those changes are part of the new autism plan in Ontario with the funding being cut for children past the age of six. 

The funding will come from a sliding scale that determines how much money a family will receive. Families that have $55,000 of net income or less will get the maximum amounts of funding through the program. If a family makes $250,000 or more in net income, they are not eligible for any kind of funding through the new program.  The services that families need to provide for children that are on the autism spectrum can range from $40,000 to $100,000 a year depending on what kind of other expenses a family has for their children such as speech therapy, tutoring and potential aids in the classroom.  

These changes have also made students who have friends that have autism unhappy. Alex Burke is a second-year student at Sheridan College and disapproves of the changes.

“I think that the provincial government is making a massive error in their changes to how people with autism and their families are supported…Doug Ford’s changes mean nobody benefits, therefore, it’s hypocritical and foolish of the Conservatives to make the change.”

Another issue with this new system is how quickly it is being implemented. Already the Ontario’s Principal’s Council has asked Minister Mcleod for a delay in the new program so that school boards can be prepared for the significant changes. As of right now, schools do not have enough staff or funding that would help to accommodate the number of new children who have autism. Under this new system, more families will have to send their kids to school over getting individual tutoring because they will no longer have the money to afford the costs. 

Jeff Szmyr is an accessibility consultant at Humber College. He helps students who have autism transition from high school to a post-secondary institution. He thinks that the mental health system as a whole needs fixes and these changes make things worse. 

“We can have a Medicare system that treats health care concerns if you’re physically, visibly injured  but for mental health concerns, people have to fend for themselves with fixed budgets.”

The government has responded by stating that they will provide “additional funding” according to Education Minister Lisa Thompson to help the school boards with these changes. However, that funding was money that was not new. That money was planned to have been added in August of 2018 as a per child funding that would be applied for the 2018-2019 school year without these changes being made. Also, this new funding is not specifically designed to help children with autism, it is meant as an overall increase in funding which can be allocated on anything a school board would like. This has led to many parents and educators becoming unnerved and worried about how all of this will work to make sure that people are not left behind in the system. 

The system officially started on April 1st, and while people may think its a joke of a system, it is no laughing matter to families. The government has been having consultations with the public as to how to give the best amount of care to the most amount of people while also keeping costs down. Some stories that have come out involve families having to sell their homes to keep the funding going for their children. As of right now, there are no fixes to these problems, and it will be interesting to see if any come before the next school year begins.