Waterloo mother hopeful about changes to Ontario's autism program

A local autism advocate is “cautiously very optimistic” about changes to the availability programming in Ontario.

'We can count on that therapy to continue well into the future'

Janet McLaughlin, shown here in a file photo with her son Sebastian, is pleased that the government has changed the rules about how long children with autism are eligible for therapy. (Submitted by Janet McLaughlin)

A local autism advocate is optimistic about a new program to help children with autism in Ontario that was introduced on Thursday.

Waterloo's Janet McLaughlin has a son with autism and is pleased that her child will receive consistent services and not have to stop receiving therapy before he's ready to.

"I'm cautiously very optimistic," McLaughlin told CBC K-W The Morning Edition's Craig Norris on Friday. "It was a really energetic and positive feeling in the room yesterday."

She said it was only a year ago that the same group of parents who attended the announcement on Thursday protested the government's autism plans after requesting changes for 12 years.

McLaughlin, an associate professor of health studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, said there are still concerns about how the programs will be rolled out, "but on paper is looks great."

One challenge she expects is wait lists for assessments and services now that the program is open up to all autistic children, regardless of severity or age.

Therapy makes a difference

One of the changes parents advocated for was to keep having therapy available.

"As parents we live the reality every day not only of our children's struggle, but we also see what a difference therapy can make in their lives, we witness the incredible successes that our children have," McLaughlin said. "In the past the government would rip that out from under us, when our children were just starting to achieve things they'd say, 'Well your time was up.' That was devastating."

Under the new plan, children are assessed every six months and as long as the clinician deems a child needs therapy, they will receive it.

"It means we can count on that therapy to continue well into the future," she said.

The changes are set to take effect later this month and McLaughlin is hopeful for how this will help parents and children.

"All children with autism have the chance of a brighter future if their needs are met at this young age when they're children and youth."