Ottawa

'Do the right thing': Parents hold autism rally outside Lisa MacLeod's office

Parents of children with autism say they'll keep showing up at Lisa MacLeod's constituency office until she does "the right thing" and reconsiders her government's new approach to funding autism therapy.

For 2nd week in a row, families protested changes to autism therapy funding

Emily Sheridan was among the protesters who rallied outside Lisa MacLeod's Ottawa constituency office on Feb. 15, 2019. Sheridan says her family has had to sell their home and downsize in order to pay for autism therapy for their son, who is almost six. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Parents of children with autism say they'll keep showing up at Lisa MacLeod's constituency office until she does "the right thing" and reconsiders her government's new approach to funding autism therapy.

While they're upset to learn Ontario's social services minister may have pressured the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts into supporting the controversial changes, few of the families who gathered Friday wanted MacLeod to actually resign her cabinet post, as opposition MPPs have demanded.

"Resigning isn't going to do anything. It will just mean more time waiting," said Susan Mallory, whose son is in Grade 2 and has only recently learned to speak and put on his own clothes.

"I think she needs to have a heart and to figure out a better plan than this. This isn't the way to go forward." 

On a day off from school, Susan Mallory's children joined her outside Lisa MacLeod's constituency office in Barrhaven to protest changes to autism funding. (Jean Deslisle/CBC)

Families intend to keep protesting

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government announced its plan to tackle autism therapy waiting lists earlier this month, in the hopes of clearing the backlog within 18 months. 

Under the new program, which takes effect April 1, families with autistic children under the age of six will receive up to $20,000 a year for support, while children over the age of six will be eligible for $5,000 until they turn 18.

MacLeod had previously explained that the reason the money would be front-loaded was because children experience the most need at younger ages.

"I don't think she needs to resign, I think she needs to do the right thing," said Emily Sheridan, whose son Oliver is finally receiving autism therapy after a long wait.

For Sheridan, the right thing would mean admitting it was wrong to impose an age cap and instead fund autism therapy based on children's needs — especially for those on the high end of the autism spectrum.

Under the new system, Sheridan's family would soon receive just $5,000 for therapy a year when Oliver turns six, she said. 

She feared he might regress or be shunted onto an overburdened school system.

The day he was diagnosed was a really hard day, but we said we would do anything for him. - Emily Sheridan

Sheridan and Mallory were among dozens who gathered over the lunch hour Friday for the second time in as many weeks to protest outside MacLeod's office in a Barrhaven strip mall.

MacLeod didn't speak with them as she had the week before, however. Social media posts suggested she was in a series of meetings with local municipal politicians at the time.

Like many parents at the protest, Sheridan said she'll keep coming back until MacLeod and her government reconsider the funding changes.

"Because it's our son," she said. "The day he was diagnosed was a really hard day, but we said we would do anything for him. Anything."