NDP compiling report on autism needs in Ontario

London West MPP Peggy Sattler speaks with Sarah Farrants a mother of a 3 -year-old boy with autism, May 27, 2019. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blacknburn News)

Through face-to-face meetings, emails, and phone calls the Ontario New Democrats are putting together their own report on what the government needs to do to fix the Ontario Autism Program.

London West MPP Peggy Sattler met with over half a dozen parents of children with autism at her constituency office on Commissioners Road West on Monday.

“I don’t think in the history of this province that there has been a program that has been botched worse than this rollout of the new Ontario Autism Program. They are scrambling to make adjustments on the fly,” said Sattler. “This is an opportunity to feed into whatever is going on behind the scenes and try to get some fixes made.”

Sarah Farrants, whose three-year-old son Mason was diagnosed with autism last October, was among those in attendance. She stressed what the government needs to introduce is more sufficient needs-based funding for families of children with autism.

“Six months of therapy here at Thames Valley is going to cost $44,000 for 24 hours a week. I’ve been told Mason needs 35 hours a week for the entire year so to spend $88,000 on therapy every year is not realistic for my husband and I,” said Farrants. “Daycares won’t take him because his needs are so high… So right now I am Mason’s therapist. I stay home and can’t obtain full-time work status because his needs are too great.”

In March, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod announced some adjustments of the Ford government’s original retooling of the program, making it so all Ontario families of children diagnosed with autism will be eligible for some provincial funding — regardless of income. Children under the age of six with autism will receive $20,000 per year in direct funding, and kids six and older will receive $5,000 annually.

The government had previously planned to cap eligible children under six at $20,000 per year up to a life maximum amount of $140,000, while kids who were older than six when they entered the program would only receive up to $5,000 per year up to a maximum of $55,000. Families with total incomes totalling more than $250,000 annually would have been ineligible for funding.

However, Farrants highlighted even those changes don’t come close to meeting the need.

“We need to work together to figure out how to make the numbers fit so that we can offer needs-based therapy to the children who need it in an adequate and supportive way while not placing the burden on parents to give up their jobs and sell their homes just to pay for therapy,” said Farrants.

Government consultations on the Ontario Autism Program are set to wrap up in the coming weeks and Sattler notes the NDP’s own consultation work will help them as the official opposition to make sure the Tories get to the heart of what those diagnosed with autism need to thrive.

“We are producing a consolidated document of what we heard from parents and so we are going to be sharing that with Minister MacLeod and the Ford government to call for them to take action on some of the recommendations that were made,” said Sattler. “By hearing directly from people in communities like London it will allow a comparison between what the government says that they heard and what we really heard from people who are on the front lines, who are living this on a daily basis, their fight to get services for their children.”