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Local MPP pans government plans for autistic students

Oshawa rep Jennifer French says service will decrease

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French recently hosted an open house to discuss changes made to funding for autism services. French said the amount of money the province will provide to school boards per student is “woefully inadequate.” (Photo supplied)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express 

The province has announced there will be further changes to the support system for students with autism in Ontario, and not everyone is pleased.

The Ford government announced earlier this month they will provide school boards with $12,300 for each new student who is on the autism spectrum.

However, Oshawa MPP Jennifer French notes this is the same level of funding already provided to boards for each student.

“The amount they are talking about is woefully inadequate,” says French.

In their announcement for “Enhancing Education Support: A Plan for Students with Autism,” the provincial government hopes to promote professional learning with a fully subsidized Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) specific additional qualification course for teachers.

The PCs also plan to double the funding to the Geneva Centre for Autism, an organization known for developing and delivering clinical intervention services and training, in order to provide additional online training opportunities for teachers.

The province will also continuing funding for behaviour expertise and student supports by continuing funding for special education, and also plans to expand after-school skills development programs for students with autism by providing funding to every school board in the province.

They will continue to use the Connections for Students model, which is meant to help students with developing an individual education plan, to help students on the spectrum.

“Student success is our number one priority. We’re putting people first by ensuring both students and educators receive the support they need to succeed,” said Minister of Education Lisa Thompson in a media statement.

She says the PCs are building on supports already in place for students with autism, as well as filling any potential gaps in promoting professional development.

The most recent changes come on the heels of the Ford government announcing in February there will be changes made to the funding model for the Ontario Autism Program.

Funding will be available directly to families instead of being given to regional service providers, such as Grandview Children’s Centre in Oshawa.

With the previous changes, children who received treatment before the age of six are eligible for up to $140,000 in funding until they turn 18.

However, those who received treatment after the age of six will be able to access up to $55,000.

French believes the announcement was very vague, which makes it tough to make sense of the PC party’s plan.

“When they’re talking about the per student funding, which is the standard amount that any student in public education is allotted, and for them to celebrate this amount when it’s the same any student gets, and that there isn’t additional funding for children with special needs or specifically for children with autism, that is going to ensure that our school systems cannot provide the support that is needed for all of these children,” says French.

French, a former teacher herself, notes many of these students have not been in the school system full time before, as they have been in intensive therapy which has, up to this point, been paid for by the government.

“Now that they are all going to find themselves full time in classrooms, they have to be funded because they’re students in Ontario,” explains French. “[The PC’s] haven’t promised anything except to cover the cost of having more bodies in seats.”

French says children who have “specific and unique needs” are not receiving the funding they need.

French says as a former teacher she feels “very anxious. I can’t possibly be as anxious as the parents.”

In a press release from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), President Sam Hammond says, “Rather than properly fund Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for thousands of children with autism, the government is downloading the issue to school boards and educators.”

Hammond notes students with autism often require services that cost between $50,000 to $100,000 more than what the government will provide.

“If [the $12,300] was applied to autism supports, it would be used up in ABA within about 12 weeks. Where is the funding beyond that? It’s not there,” he says.

In the statement from ETFO, Hammond says teachers are not ABA specialists, and he doesn’t believe they should be.

“Instead of providing more funding for educational assistants trained in ABA and speech pathologists to work with students with autism, the government should not be downloading its responsibilities on to educators to meet the needs of these children,” he says.

A statement from Autism Ontario, an organization aiming to help provide acceptance and opportunities for those with autism, notes the announcement “remains thin on details and scope of impact or implementation requirements,” and doesn’t address a way “to resolve the gap that remains between coordinating ABA services between school and the community.”

Autism Ontario officials believe there are many children who will lose services for the first time, and “parents are likely to have little confidence in their children’s classroom experience.”