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Julie Green and her son. (Photo courtesy Julie Green)

Ontario autism program doesn't fit my son

The author's child learned to write thanks to a private occupational therapist, and she worries her family will get little or no money under the government's new plan

By Julie Green

Imagine this: Two people walk into a hospital. One has a paper cut, the other is bleeding profusely. Both are offered identical Band-Aids and sent on their way. Another person enters. They too need medical attention, but are told to go and buy their own Band-Aids.

Welcome to the one-size-fits-all autism program proposed by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, where eligibility for services will be based on factors like age and income, rather than individual need.

Sure, wait times will be drastically reduced — if only because my 10-year-old and thousands like him will be mostly excluded. Under the new program, which comes into effect on April 1, services will be allocated on a sliding scale, according to the number of years in service (i.e. a child’s age), as well as a family’s income. If my son receives support at all, it will be negligible and insufficient to meet his needs.

Why should taxpayer dollars fund therapy for kids with autism, anyway? Why should I support your child with a disability? Those without a personal connection to autism may ask themselves such questions. The reason is simple. Because the Canada I know is not — and hopefully never will be — a country driven purely by self-interest. The Canada I know prides itself on access to universal health care, education and unemployment benefits. We have a safety net of services at our disposal should we need them. We believe that everyone deserves a fighting chance to live up to their potential and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

People with autism can and do contribute to society in a meaningful way, if we give them what they need to flourish. But the Ontario government will rob some of our most vulnerable citizens of that opportunity. I've seen firsthand the impact that evidence-based interventions, including speech and occupational therapy, can make. Children with no speech, suddenly talking in full sentences. Children who cannot eat or use the toilet independently, gaining the skills to work and live autonomously. My son, who struggled to hold a pencil, learned to write thanks to a private occupational therapist. If we don't give this generation the support they need now, the cost to our country in years to come will be devastating.

With little or no access to funding or services, where will all these children end up? In public schools grossly unprepared to teach them. In front of doctors grossly unprepared to treat them. They will grow into teenagers and then adults in need of care and housing. All at the expense of Ontarians.

Autism in Canada does not just affect 1 in 66 kids and their families — it affects us all.

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