Sudbury parents cautiously optimistic about Ontario's new autism program

Two Sudbury families say they are pleased recommendations have come forward to change Ontario’s autism services, but say they are waiting to see how the changes will be implemented.

Provincial plan recommends major changes to Ford government’s controversial autism program

Sean Staddon says he's hoping the province acts quickly in implementing changes to its autism program. He and his wife Julia have two children on the spectrum, Chaz and June. (Submitted by Sean Staddon)

Two Sudbury families say they are pleased recommendations have come forward to change Ontario's autism services, but say they are waiting to see how the changes will be implemented.

On Wednesday, a report was released by a provincial panel that looked at Ontario's autism program. It recommended several changes that it says would remove barriers to access, provide families with more support and widen the options of treatment for children with autism.

The Ford government appointed the panel in July with the goal of redesigning the program, which has been criticized by parents and autism experts since it was unveiled in February. 

Sean Staddon has two children on the spectrum. He says the report lays out the groundwork parents and advocates have been asking for.

"I was certainly pleased to see a little northern taste," he said. "We had submitted written submissions to one of the panel members and to have our needs for Francophone service and Indigenous inclusion and rural remote communities - to see that highlighted and have its own section really meant a lot to me and a lot of the parents."

However, Staddon says he's nervous about how the plan will be rolled out, adding it may not affect his family. He says his daughter currently needs close to $70,000 a year in treatment costs.

"Me and my wife have been paying out of our own pocket already," he said.

"We've already taken on extra jobs and overtime. It really depends on how well this implementation committee can work and how fast."

Sara Kitlar-Pothier's son Bohdan is on the spectrum. She says she does have a few concerns about the plan.

Sara Kitlar-Pothier says while she's pleased with the recommendations, but adds she's worried that some therapies aren't included. She and her husband Shawn have two children Luka and Bohdan, who is on the spectrum. (Submitted by Sara Kitlar-Pothier)

"There are some missing therapies that have been proven to help our kids which is a little bit concerning," she said.

"They're not covered by OHIP. They're not covered by any insurance companies and we happen to be in that scenario."

However, Kitlar-Pothier says she was pleased to see an emphasis on education, mental health and early intervention.

"Unfortunately my son never had the opportunity to have those implemented," she said.

"Right now, it's not mandated that schools allow therapists to help with the kids. I think bridging that gap would be really important."

 She says it's important the government quickly implement this program.

"How long have the Conservatives been in power and we still don't have anything for our kids that's concrete and effective and helpful? That's where the cautious optimism comes from," she said.

"We know the panel did a great job but it's up to this new implementation committee to do their due diligence and do something that's going to work for our kids."

With files from Jan Lakes


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