Parents To Protest Outside Queens Park Over Autism Funding

Hundreds of parents, therapists and union members will stand outside Queen's Park Thursday to protest the provincial government's changes to its autism program.

Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced last month that in order to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children, all kids diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum would receive direct funding to pay for treatment.

Kelly McGarry is a local mother of a 9-year-old child with autism joining the demonstration. She says the funding plan is "unacceptable,"

"This new plan amounts to basically no support. Little to none,” she says on the bus to Toronto. “To say it's a pittance would be overly optimistic."

McGarry says her son has made great strides under intensive therapy, that included coming off all medication and seeing 94% behaviour improvements.

"I'm very worried about all the kids coming through who will not be able to use the services and see the results we've seen," she says.

MacLeod has faced severe criticism over the revamped program, which aims to clear a wait list of 23,000 children by providing direct funding to all kids diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Under the program, families will get up to $20,000 per year for treatment for children under six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18, but intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, and only families with an adjusted annual net family income of under $55,000 will be eligible for the maximum amounts.

Parents are calling for autism funding to be based on children's individual needs, instead of just their age and family income. The new program kicks in on April 1.

McGarry says parents of high needs children are stretched to begin with.

"We do put out a lot of money outside of these therapies, in our case our husband had to leave his job to support our son," she explains. "And now to add tens of thousands of dollars? I really struggle with how families are going to deal with that."

MacLeod says she won't be attending the protest because the tone of the debate has raised concerns about her personal safety.

McGarry says she hopes the Progressive Conservatives will "change their minds." She's seen firsthand what proper can support can do.

"We're thinking 20, 30 years out. We need this generation of children to have the services they need now, so they don't cost the province exponentially more 20, 30 years from now."


- With files from the Canadian Press