Parents of children affected by Ontario autism therapy changes may take legal action

Parents of children with autism are upset that the a motion by Ontario provincial opposition parties, calling for an intensive autism therapy to be restored for children over age 5, didn't pass.

Opposition motion to reinstate therapy cuts voted down at Queen's park

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown with a parent who came to protest cuts to autism therapy. (Tavis Nembhard/submitted)

Parents of children with autism in Ontario are considering legal action after the latest motion to reinstate provincially-funded intensive behaviour intervention therapy for children over age five was rejected at Queen's Park Tuesday.

"So now legal avenues are being considered in terms of filing human rights complaints," local parent Janet McLaughlin told CBC News. "Legal challenges for age discrimination [may be filed]."

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives tabled the motion, which was supported by the NDP, at Queen's Park Tuesday calling on the Liberal government to restore funding. The motion was voted down after a two-hour debate.

McLaughlin said the Opposition side of the gallery was filled with parents, grandparents and autism therapists. They listened on as Opposition members read letters from families affected by the cuts. 

"Many of the families felt upset because we were seeing these persuasive arguments being made to a virtually empty [Liberal] side of the chamber," McLaughlin explains. "And those MPP's who were there, including the minister, were on their phone. They didn't seem to be actively listening. To us, it felt insulting."

Emotionally charged issue

Kitchener-Centre MPP Daiene Vernile told CBC News she understands it's an emotional issue. Vernile says the motion brought forward by the Conservatives would set the province back to a time when kids were waiting for years to get service. 

"The new plan that we have forward is going to invest a third of a billion dollars, that's a B, in the next five years. It's going to get 16,000 more children help this year," said Vernile. "$8,000 is going to go to families with children over five who have been on the wait list to get immediate therapy. And for those kids, they are going to have a clinical assessment afterward and customized treatment to meet their individual needs."

Local PC MPP calls for change

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris tells CBC News that the debate Tuesday was probably his toughest day as an MPP hearing the emotional stories and seeing the parents and the children in person. 

"I spoke myself of several kids in my community like Cole, Cameron and Trevor...who have autism and whose parents have seen significant improvements with this therapy. And in some of these cases will be cut off entirely because they're over the age of five."

Vernile accused the Conservatives and NDP of "playing politics" with the issue. She encouraged parents in Waterloo Region to contact Kidsability to get clarity on how the plan will actually work.

Janet McLaughlin says parents will keep fighting until the decision is reversed.