Autism therapy wait list changes 'a difficult process,' minister acknowledges
Province plans to cut wait times to six months or less in five years
The minister responsible for executing the Ontario government's plan to reduce autism treatment wait times — by gradually eliminating intensive therapy for children five years or older — says she empathizes with parents whose children will be taken off the list.
But Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles said the government believes the changes will mean more children will receive the interventions they need.
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MacCharles told Alan Neal on CBC Ottawa's All in a Day that her heart goes out to parents who were expecting to be able to get intensive therapy for the children.
"I can empathize," said MacCharles. "This isn't a transition without challenges… it's a difficult process."
This week, the government unveiled its strategy for reducing autism therapy wait times — and one key tenet of that strategy involves eliminating intensive behavioural intervention therapy, or IBI, for children aged five and up.
IBI will be refocused on children between the ages of two and four. Children over five who currently receive IBI will be gradually moved to "more clinically appropriate" Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) services.
"When we are talking about our new autism program, what our focus is, is to make sure children with autism get the services they need in the right developmental window," MacCharles said.
One-time payment of $8,000
But parents have complained that since the average age of diagnosis is four years old, most children won't benefit from the intensive behavioural intervention therapy under the new provincial plan.
MacCharles acknowledged that getting earlier diagnosis of autism is a challenge the province is working on, but said the province made the changes based on the advice of clinical experts.
She said the bigger concern is that with long wait lists, parents aren't getting any services for their children.
"Our government can't be satisfied with wait lists climbing to five years," she said. "Far more children are waiting for services than actually getting services."
MacCharles says the goal is to cut the wait times in half in two years, and reduce the wait time to six months in five years.
She also pointed out that families who have children five years and older on the IBI wait list will also receive a one-time payment of $8,000 to purchase community services or supports.
But parents have told CBC News that money would only pay for one to two months of intensive therapy.