Parents Stage Protest Outside Clark's Office Over Autism Funding

Local parents of children with autism say they're scared of setting their children back under the upcoming autism program changes.

A group protested yesterday outside MPP Steve Clarks office, with worries under the proposed rules coming into effect on April 1, families won’t be able to afford the intensive therapies kids need.

Jeff and Hallie Lyman have a three year old son Conner with autism.

Under the proposed changes, Conner will get up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children until the age of six, and a maximum of $5,000 a year for children until the age of 18. But intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.

They've been on the waiting list for intensive therapy treatments since November, 2018. They say they are willing to continue to wait even if it’s a year or two. Jeff says with that amount of money anything he learns will all be lost without continuous therapy.

“I can’t afford out of pocket to support my son.”

Each day can vary widely with Conners moods. One day he can be great, playing with toys and doing things that make him happy, like spending time with his older sister.

"And you cherish that, because that’s what gets you though the next day when it's hard," says Jeff tearing up.

"I just want it to be good all the time."

Hallie worries about all the kids who are not ready to be in school suddenly flooding the classrooms.

On Monday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said school boards will get an average of $12,300 for each new student with autism entering the school system in the remaining months of this school year.

Advocates are concerned teachers will be overwhelmed and that training won't be enough to provide the teachers with the tools to help the children.

Hallie agrees.

"It's a nightmare for all these teachers," she says. "It's just going to cause more harm to these children who are coming out of these therapies that they're receiving."

"I'm flabbergasted."

In a statement to JRfm, MPP Steve Clark says the government is working to support all children with autism, not just some.

"Our government inherited an Ontario Autism Program that was broken and unsustainable. A program that provided service and support to just 25% of the children and families who needed it.

It's unacceptable that 23,000 children were left to languish on a waitlist and that's why we have implemented changes to ensure 100% of children will receive support from their Ontario government.”

Llyod Figura is a grandfather who’s been caring for his autistic grandson for 20 years. He says he doesn't expect teachers will get the proper training.

"Teachers need to be trained, and not trained by a course that the school board designs, [but instead] a course by people who deal with autism have designed and can teach them how to do it."