By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
After considerable push back, the provincial government will launch consultations regarding the future of autism funding in Ontario next month.
Starting in May, the government will be seeking public feedback through an online survey and telephone town halls.
An advisory panel will then review information received through consultations.
The panel will include parents of autistic children, autistic adults, and experts from a range of disciplines including psychology, education, and behaviour analysis.
It is expected the panel will deliver recommendations later this summer.
Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services Lisa MacLeod says her government is listening to the concerns of families.
“Nobody should underestimate the challenges that families of children with autism face. As a government we want to be there for them,” MacLeod said.
Earlier this year, the Ford government announced numerous changes to the province’s autism program in hopes of eliminating a wait list of nearly 23,000 children needing service.
Funding will be provided directly to families with autistic children instead of designated service providers.
The new program includes a lifetime funding cap of $140,000, and yearly limits of $20,000 a year for children under six, and $5,000 per year for kids under six, until reaching the age of 18.
Families with income greater than $250,000 were initially no longer eligible to receive funding, but this measure has been eliminated.
School boards would receive $12,300 for each autistic student entering into the system.
Parents and autism experts have argued these funding levels are inadequate to access services. It’s been stated annual service costs for a family can run up to $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
Several protests of the changes, which came into effect April 1, were held at Queen’s Park last month.
Meanwhile, school boards have stated increased expectations for educators to address the individual needs of autistic children will become overwhelming in the classroom.
The government has stated it will announce “further supports” for autism services this fall.
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French said she is proud of the work parents and other advocates have achieved.
“They have really pushed to the move the government from their hard no to maybe,” French said.
However, she believes there is still a lot of progress to be made to reverse what she calls the Conservatives’ “disastrous plan.”
She is hopeful there is fulsome conversation and the voices of those effected are heard.
“It’s not just about listening and then going ahead with the original plan,” she said.