London-Fanshawe MPP takes aim at Doug Ford's Ontario Autism Program

MPP Teresa Armstrong, NDP critic for Children and Youth Services, is accusing Ontario Premier Doug Ford of betraying a generation of kids with autism.

"Tens of thousands of kids in Ontario have repeatedly been let down by successive governments in this province. And I refuse to stand idly by while that continues to happen,” said Armstrong.

In 2019, Ford promised to eliminate the waitlist for the Ontario Autism Program (OAP), but Armstrong says the Financial Accountability Office estimates that waitlist has grown to 42, 000 kids.

“For two years now, no new kids with autism have received treatments. The children who had been receiving therapies have suffered a reduction in services, which has forced clinics to close and service providers out of business across this province. Meanwhile, families are at wits’ end hoping that their interim funding won’t run out and an untold amount of kids have now aged out of the program without any support,” she said.

The office for the Minister or Children, Community and Social Services responded to that criticism in a statement saying, “Earlier this month, the Ministry began inviting children and youth to participate in the launch of core clinical services under the new needs-based Ontario Autism Program."

Palmer Lockridge, director of media relations for the minister, continued, “Launching these services is a critical step forward in the ongoing implementation of a needs-based autism program designed by the community for the community.”

Natalie Canoglu is a parent of a child with autism from London, Ont. She says the government's policies have let her and her child down.

“Prior to the Ford government, my son had access to life-changing therapy. He no longer has that. We’ve been on the waitlist since April 2017. Our family has suffered without help, we see that toll on our mental health. We go in and out of crisis and have been in crisis many times over the years as we continue to go without service. I don’t have hope that change is coming.”

Meanwhile Angela Brandt, the president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, says that is a common theme for parents around the province.

“Many children have lost valuable time. This delay has and continues to cause irreparable harm. There will be long-lasting effects to the government’s blunder with the OAP and will potentially cost our government billions in long term support for this generation of children with autism.”

But Lockridge says, “...to date, more than 34,000 children are receiving support through the existing behaviour plans, childhood budgets and interim one-time funding...To support services for children and youth on the autism spectrum our government doubled the funding allocation for the Ontario Autism Program to $600 million, which is the ongoing budget for the program moving forward.”

World Autism Awareness day is April 2, and Armstrong hopes to persuade the government to increase support for children with autism.

“Every parent of a child with autism will tell you that every day matters. I have spoken with these families and many of those meetings end in tears,” said Armstrong. “Parents are forced to remortgage their homes, go further into debt, work multiple jobs and travel for hours to make sure their kid gets the therapies they need. It’s time for the government to step up and to commit to a truly needs-based model that leaves no kid behind.”

According to the Ontario Autism Program, eligible families can receive up to $20,000 for a child aged one through five, and $5,000 for a child or youth aged six to 17.