Doug Ford’s government announced on Thursday that it would be making several alterations to its heavily criticized autism program. The changes will see an elimination of the previously installed income testing alongside the exploration of supports based on need.
As a result of the changes, Ontario families with children on the autism spectrum will now receive provincial funding, regardless of their income. The government also announced that children with autism that currently benefit from publicly-funded care will continue to receive the therapy for its outline duration, according to CBC. Families will be able to renew their plan for an additional six months, which means no child will suddenly be deprived of care due to the government’s changes.
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod, explained that the government is working on providing support to families based on their child's specific needs. Children placed on the autism spectrum often vary in terms of need and therapy. Some children with autism can function independently in society with gradually reduced care. Others, such as non-verbal children, may need more intensive resources to thrive.
The government had initially announced that it would be clearing a waiting list of 23,000 children by offering families direct funding. However, the payments to the families would only be $20,000 per year for children under six and $5,000 a year for children above that age. Intensive autism therapy is known to cost upwards of $80,000 a year.
Signs at the autism protest at Queens Park. pic.twitter.com/0MjdPgXzPE
Ford promised parents of children with autism they won’t have to protest at Queen’s Park like they had to with the Liberals. He broke that promise, and refused to even look these parents and kids in the eyes. These families deserve better. #AutismDoesntEndAtFord #AutismProtest pic.twitter.com/ivfJhNPrLz
Large-scale protests broke out following MacLeod's announcement last month, with families feeling hung out to dry by the government’s changes. Many parents claimed that they would no longer be able to cover the financial difference left open by the changes, which will leave their children without the care they need to thrive.
"Lisa MacLeod along with the Ford government have drastically changed the Ontario Autism Program, stating they are 'clearing the waitlist'. Our community have come together to understand that the 'drop in the bucket' they’re offering our children is not enough for our children. That equality is NOT Equity. And that a one-size-fits-all model will only harm our children, as they all have individual needs!” read a statement posted on Ontario Autism Coalition, an organization which helped rally others to protest the changes.