Parents of children with autism announce plan to take legal action against government

Three mothers and one father said that cuts to programs have made it difficult to access medical and social services for their children, and that financial and emotional tolls ensue.

Parents say cuts to programs have made it difficult to access medical and social services for their children

Fo Niemi, Katharine Cukier, Kathleen Salvail, Claudia Toboadia and Sam Kuhn spoke at a news conference at CRARR. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Claudia Taboada said she had to quit her job as a lawyer to be able to care for her son who has autism spectrum disorder.

Taboada is part of a group of Quebec parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are planning to take legal action against the Quebec government in an effort to improve services and access to them.

"We're going to go all the way. We are tired," Taboada said.

The group is made up of three mothers and one father who said that cuts to programs have made it difficult to access medical and social services for their children.

Among the parents' grievances is having to endure seemingly endless wait lists for diagnoses and treatment. This means they have to spend money on private health care services.

"I have lost at least $100,000 over the years because of sick leave, taking unpaid leave due to my son's condition and the lack of appropriate services for him," said Katharine Cukier, mother of 15-year-old Benjamin, who has ASD.

She spoke at a news conference Sunday at the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

The parents are planning to sue various government institutions, such as school boards and health care institutions. They will either file individual complaints of systemic discrimination with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, or eventually, a class action lawsuit.

'Very anxious about the future'

Taboada's greatest concern is her son's future.

Her 17-year-old has been on multiple waiting lists for special services and has been bounced around the public school system.

Children with special needs stay in school until they are 21, but after that, Taboada said she has no real options — a lack of day centres and huge waiting lists make her worry that her son will lose everything he learned in school just sitting at home.

"I'm very scared, very anxious for his future," Taboada said.

Though the province invested $29 million into an action plan to improve autism services nearly a year ago, these parents say they haven't seen any change and that it's simply not enough money.

"Very little has been done," Cukier said.

Spokesperson for Quebec's Public Health Ministry Alexandra Régis said the increase in autism rates has made it difficult to deliver services.

She said the five-year action plan is supposed to remedy that.

In 2014, the Ontario government invested $810 million in services for people with developmental disabilities. Cukier considers this a model to follow. 

"We are far behind other provinces in providing for this very vulnerable population," she said. 

With files from Verity Stevenson


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