Mother of adult child with autism fears more families heading towards crisis

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

An Ottawa mother who made national headlines years ago when she left her son at a government office is speaking out again for parents of children with special needs.

Amanda Telford says the Ontario government's changes to autism funding will leaves families in crisis once again.  It's been six years since Amanda Telford made a gut-wrenching decision, admitting she and her husband could no longer care for their 19-year-old son Philippe, worried about keeping him safe in their home.  The towering teen had multiple developmental disabilities including autism.  Her story, she fears, may become the story for other families now.

It's been years since CTV last interviewed Amanda Telford.   But like any mom, she's proud to catch us up on how her son Philippe is doing.  He is 25 now and living in a group home in Cornwall. 

‘He's well-integrated in the community,” Telford says, as she flips through photos of him, “and Philippe is a very happy camper.”

But it took a defining moment in April of 2013 for both Philippe and his parents to get there. Exhausted and fearing for his safety, the Telfords left Philippe at a provincial government office, turning a spotlight on a system in crisis.

Telford says she thinks of that day often.

“I don’t regret what I did,” she says, “It kept my son safe.”

Her only regret she says is that the system wasn't more responsive to parents desperate for help, a situation she sees playing out once again as parents of children with autism mount rallies in protest.

“We need to be finding more innovative ways of supporting our autism community,” says Telford, “and it doesn't mean throwing more money at it but doing things better, smarter and differently.”

Today, as the provincial legislature resumed sitting, the NDP resumed its attack on the Ford government's handling of the autism file, demanding Lisa MacLeod be removed from her role as Social Services Minister.

“It's bad enough he betrayed his promise to be there 1000%,” Andrea Horwath, the Official Leader of the Opposition said of Premier Doug Ford during Question Period, “but the Minister who is supposed to be the voice for families at the Cabinet table threatened families and stakeholders. If she will not resign,” Horwath continued, “will the Premier show leadership and remove her from her role?”

Minister Lisa MacLeod responded to that question, “Iwill be unapologetic in making sure that 100% of the children that require support from their government when they have autism receive what they need.”

Amanda Telford has heard that message before; she worries the reality could force history to repeat itself.

“I would imagine there are people who would consider doing what I did,” she says, referring to that decision six years ago, “just out of pure desperation.”

Telford says her advice to parents is to keep advocating for their kids but to look after themselves, too.  She says these struggles take a toll on their health and their marriage.