Autism advocates hopeful budget boost will speed intervention

In its budget, the Ontario government announced it will invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the redesign and consolidation of autism services over the next five years.

Families of kids with autism hope provincial funding will shorten wait lists

Colleen O'Reilly's son has made a lot of progress through the programs offered by QuickStart Early Intervention for Autism.

Suzanne Jacobson hopes the Ontario government's promise to invest $333 million into autism services for young children will put her organization out of business.

When it release its budget Thursday, government announced that over the next five years it will invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the redesign and consolidation of autism services across the province, "so that more children and youth receive critical interventions sooner and achieve improved outcomes through services that are better matched to their needs."

Suzanne Jacobson is founder of QuickStart Early Intervention for Autism. (Ashley Burke/CBC)
Jacobson founded Quickstart Early Intervention for Autism after both her young grandsons were diagnosed with autism. She said the long wait times for government-funded programs mean kids are missing the opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment.   

"We really scrambled trying to figure out what to do and get someone to pay attention to the concerns," said Jacobson.

Thousands on wait lists 

Government documents made public late last year showed that not only are there thousands of names on provincial wait lists, but the number of kids receiving treatment may also be decreasing.

Madeleine Meilleur, Ottawa-Vanier MPP, said the government hopes to eliminate wait times for those services.

"Everything that's being done in the transformation is based on science and there was great consultation," said Meilleur. "It will help the family, the children that are in need."

Jacobson says this kind of investment is exactly what advocates have been asking from the government.

"I think they've been aware of early intervention and knew that timely service is quite important," said Jacobson. "I think the struggle has been the scope of it, because each child is unique." 

Right service at the right time'

Jacobson has two grandsons, aged 11 and eight, both on the autism spectrum. With the older boy, the family experienced long delays, first in getting a diagnosis, then obtaining services and support. 

When their second child came along, they paid out of pocket for special speech and behaviour therapy.

"The older one is in an autism classroom, the younger one is in a regular classroom in his regular school," said Jacobson.

"The wait times are hugely impacting the child from reach their full potential ... With this budget they're looking to have the right service at the right time and it's going to be individualized."