A London mother says children with autism aren't getting the services they need, as parents face years-long waits for therapy despite the importance of early intervention. 

Jessica Ashton says her three-and-a half-year old son was diagnosed with autism last summer. 

She and her husband sought out therapy at the Thames Valley Children's Centre and were told they were number 989 on the wait list for therapy. 

"At that moment, I realized my son might not receive treatments for years to come," Ashton said Thursday at a news conference at Queen's Park with London West MPP Peggy Sattler. 

"I thought to myself: This cannot be happening, because all the research I'd done urged that early intervention and therapy is essential for their future progress."

Ashton said the long wait lists for service are an unbearable burden for parents already dealing with the daily stress of caring for children on the autism spectrum. 

Ashton has started a petition with 6,000 signatures, calling on the province to improve wait times so that children can get access to therapy earlier on, when it has the greatest benefit. 

Last month, the province announced a pilot program to provide students with treatment, including Applied Behaviour Analysis, from their therapists at school.

But the pilot project is only available in 18 Ontario school boards. The Liberal government announced the $533-million Ontario Autism Program earlier this year. It includes a direct funding option, something families have long been clamouring for.

But Bruce McIntosh of the Ontario Autism coalition said the government programs falls far short of the surging need for services.

"We're bailing the boat with a teaspoon and it's the kids who are drowning," he said Thursday.