Ontario government plans more changes to autism program amid fierce backlash

All families with a child with autism in Ontario will be eligible for some provincial funding, no matter their income, the government says.

The change is one of a number of tweaks to the government’s controversial revamp of the Ontario Autism Program, which was announced last month. Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod detailed the revisions at a brief news conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday morning.

MacLeod had previously said that in order to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children, kids with autism would receive direct funding to pay for treatment.

Families with children under six years old would be eligible for $20,000 per year, to a lifetime maximum amount of $140,000. Once a child turns six, funding would drop to $5,000 per year until they are 18. Children who enter the program at older than six would be eligible for up to $5,000 per year, up to a maximum of $55,000 by the time they turn 18.

Those maximums were based on sliding income scale, with families earning more than $250,000 per year ineligible for funding. MacLeod says now that all kids under six diagnosed as on the spectrum will receive $20,000 per year until they turn six and kids over six years old will receive $5,000 per year regardless of family income.

Further, MacLeod said that children currently receiving publicly-funded autism therapy will continue to have access to that service as long as their current treatment plan dictates. After that, they will able to renew their plan at the same level of intensity for another six months.

Speech language pathology will also be added to the list of provincially funded services.

MacLeod said the Progressive Conservatives plan to continue to consult with stakeholders on how to offer more services to children with “complex needs.”

Intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year and many parents with kids already in government-funded therapy say they will be unable to cover the difference to keep their kids in full-time therapy.

The government’s proposed changes prompted large protests at Queen’s Park and has been met with reticence from schools board and therapy providers.

MacLeod said Thursday that she will “offer no apologies” for the new program.

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