Ottawa

Free Ottawa autism program can't keep up with demand

The founder of a free Ottawa program that covers the cost of early intervention for autism says it may soon have to turn children away after an increase in demand since launching.

Privately-funded program costs $4,000 per child

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

The founder of a free Ottawa program that covers the cost of early intervention for autism says it may have to turn children away after an increase in demand since launching in 2013.

Suzanne Jacobson, a grandmother of two boys on the autism spectrum, launched QuickStart to provide families with a free early autism diagnosis and treatment to avoid sitting for years on wait lists.

"We are seeing almost double the numbers come through," said Suzanne Jacobson, who now fears she will have to start a wait list herself. 

Jacobson runs a four to five month program that pays for children under 30 months of age and covers the costs of the diagnosis and 18 sessions with a speech pathologist, occupational therapist and a parent coach.

The group put 33 children through the program last year at a cost of $4,000 per child totalling more than $130,000 - money that came from private donations.

But, Jacobson says the not-for-profit doesn't have enough funding to pay for double the number of families at their current funding level.

A tale of two siblings

Jacobson's oldest grandson Alexander,11, waited four years for a diagnosis and intensive therapy through the publicly-funded system.

"Today Alex is in an autism classroom with two aides, one teacher and six children," said Jacobson. "He will need care for all of his life."

Through a sibling study, her other grandson Nathan, 8, received a quick diagnosis and immediate speech therapy. He finished intensive therapy before his older brother even started.

"Nathan is fully integrated into his local school without his aid and will most likely live on his own and have a full and productive life."

Jacobson never wanted to see another child lose out on the opportunities her oldest grandson did, so she started QuickStart.

Families benefiting from the early intervention

"My son, he's a totally different boy," said Colleen O'Reilly, a single mother whose 2-year-old son, Connor, started the program in November.

Colleen O'Reilly's two-year-old son has autism and just recently started in the QuickStart program. (CBC)
O'Reilly said her son had never spoken a word before. 

"It's almost like he's opening his eyes to the world for the first time," said O'Reilly. "He's able to engage. He's able to play with toys. He's more aware of his environment and his surroundings. It's beautiful to be able to see him."

"Virtually every child by the end of that very short period has words," says Jacobson.

"Some of them have loads of words and really fly."