Province's new autism plan rips away Burlington family's hope for son

Shay Boshis suddenly doesn't know what kind of future her son Wesley will get to have, as a complete overhaul of the province's autism program is about to slash funding for essential therapies he desperately needs.
Wesley Boshis, 6, has autism. His mother says changes to how the province funds therapy will slash his supports. (Shay Boshis)

Shay Boshis suddenly doesn't know what kind of future her son Wesley will get to have, as a complete overhaul of the province's autism program is about to slash funding for essential therapies he desperately needs.

Wesley is six-years-old and has severe autism. He is non-verbal, functions at the level of a two-year-old, and can sometimes be aggressive. Boshis knows this firsthand, as she's dealing with the after effects of a concussion brought on by one of his outbursts.

But Wesley is also making progress.

In the province's current autism program, he is eligible for over $92,000 a year in funding for treatment, which translates to 32 hours a week of intense therapy. That's allowed him to start communicating through pictures, and opened up an avenue for Boshis and her husband to better understand their son.

That's all about to change. The provincial government has announced plans to change how the funding model works — leaving Boshis with only $5,000 a year to go towards treatment, which will allow the family to provide only 90 hours of therapy per year.

"When he was doing the full-time autism therapy, I was certain that at some point he'd become verbal … I don't know if he'll ever be able to graduate high school or anything like that, but I'm sure he'd be able to maintain a part time job, probably live at home, but do most self care things on his own," Boshis told CBC News.

"Now, if he loses this autism therapy, I don't think he'll ever be able to maintain a job or take care of himself, or even use the washroom. There's no qualified person to teach him any of this."

Base decisions on need, mother says

Premier Doug Ford's government announced a plan on Wednesday to clear a province-wide wait list for autism therapy within 18 months. About 23,000 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders are waiting for government-funded treatment in Ontario, while just 8,400 are currently in the program receiving therapy.

The government will give funding for treatment directly to families, instead of regional service providers, with a total of up to $140,000 per child until the age of 18.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, revealed changes to the province's autism program on Wednesday. (CBC)

That funding is based on age, said Lisa MacLeod, minister of Children, Community and Social Services. A child entering the program at age two would be eligible to receive up to $140,000, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55,000.

On Thursday, MacLeod defended the government's actions during an appearance on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. You can listen to that interview below:

MacLeod said the money will be front-loaded for younger children, because they experience the most need at younger ages. A spokesperson for MacLeod said she was not available for an interview Thursday about this specific case.

Boshis told CBC News that funding allotments need to be based on severity, not age.

"It's a case by case situation," she said. "Doing a flat rate for every child is not giving children what they need."

Government to double spending on autism diagnostic hubs

The new plan doesn't recognize the differences in need between children at different ends of the autism spectrum, said Bruce McIntosh, who is the former president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a father of a child with autism.

He resigned as the legislative assistant for MPP Amy Fee on Wednesday after the government's announcement.

The funding "doesn't come close," to what families require, said McIntosh, calling needs-based funding "absolutely critical."

Shay Boshis, right, says her son has started to communicate better now that he is in treatment. (Shay Boshis)

NDP children and youth critic Monique Taylor said in a statement that the province's changes will mean high-needs children will have their services ripped away.

"We need to eliminate wait lists by investing more into autism services, focusing on evidence-based solutions that put the needs of kids and their families first — not just redistributing a funding envelope that's too small to solve the problem," she said.

The government also announced Wednesday it will double government spending on autism diagnostic hubs to $5.5 million a year for the next two years.

There are around 2,400 children in line for assessment, with an average wait list of 31 weeks, according to government figures.

Ford's government also announced they are also creating a provider list to help families find clinical supervisors for behavioural services.

The government is also creating an independent agency to "bring families into the program, help them manage their funding, and assist them in purchasing and accessing services."

MacLeod said families on the waiting list can expect to receive funding within the next 18 months.



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