Province to Launch New Autism Services Program


Some good news from local families with autistic children.

The province has announced a new autism services program will be launched in March with the initial rollout including 600 children.

Ontario's Social Services Minister Todd Smith says the program will provide children with needs-based supports including applied behaviour analysis, speech language pathology and occupational therapy.

Smith told AM800's The Afternoon News that plenty of behind the scenes work went into getting the program in place.

"We've been following the recommendations right from the start of the Ontario Autism Panel and we've had volunteers that have been working over the last year extremely hard. These are clinical experts and advocates making key decisions on what the new program will look like," he says.

Smith says the first group will include kids from communities across the province.

"We want to have a good cross-section. We'll make sure that they're being supported and that we're getting the feedback from the family members, the individuals and, importantly as well, from the clinicians that are providing the different types of treatment," he says.

Smith believes the new program comes at an important time for many families.

"Mental health, which is extremely important at this time. We know that families have been having a difficult time, particularly with COVID, and I've been speaking with those families almost on a daily basis about the challenges that they've been facing," he says.

Smith says the program will expand throughout the year to include 8,000 more children by the end of 2021.

For children not included in the new program, the government will expand interim funding made available in 2019 to pay for eligible services.

The new autism services program was supposed to launch in April 2020 but Smith announced in late 2019 that it would instead be phased in over two years.

Smith says the pandemic slowed plans for the phased-in implementation and added that the government will be able to refine the program once it starts next month.


With files from Patty Handysides and The Canadian Press