New campaign draws attention to growing wait list for autism services

Parents of children with autism say the waitlist for provincial services in Ontario has doubled under Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government. Now they've created a new campaign to bring greater attention to the issue.

The 50 K is not OK campaign will target Conservative ridings ahead of the Ontario election

Sudbury's Sean Staddon has helped launch a new campaign to draw attention to a growing waitlist for autism services for children in Ontario. He and his wife Julia have two children on the spectrum, Chaz and June. (Submitted by Sean Staddon)

Parents of children with autism say the waitlist for core services in Ontario has doubled under Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government.

Now the Ontario Autism Coalition has created a new campaign to bring greater attention to the issue.

The #50KIsNotOK campaign uses images of Toronto's Rogers Centre, formerly known as the SkyDome, to illustrate what 50,000 children on the waitlist looks like.

"Families are in crisis," said Sudbury father Sean Staddon, political action co-chair with the Ontario Autism Coalition. "And we're pointing out that you've doubled the waitlist and it's now up over 50,000 children."

Both of Staddon's children are on the autism spectrum. He said his son and daughter have lost out on four years of gains they could have made had they had easier access to support programs.

"And now we're fighting for the kid that's going to be diagnosed today," he said.

Staddon said the coalition will target ridings with Conservative MPPs leading up to the Ontario election on June 2, 2022.

In northeastern Ontario, that means they will focus social media advertising in North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.

"I think for the major parties, we're all very aligned and know exactly what needs to be done," Staddon said. "Nothing more than investment and time needed to happen."

Needs-based program

In a news release last December the province said it would work with an independent intake organization to make it easier for families to access services in the needs-based Ontario Autism Program.

It said the  independent intake organization would be delivered through a partnership between Accerta Services Inc., McMaster University, Autism Ontario, and HealthCare 365. 

In addition, the province also announced it would launch the Entry to School Program to support children on the autism spectrum entering kindergarten or Grade 1. 

"With the launch of the independent intake organization and the Entry to School Program, we are well on our way to delivering on the recommendations of the Ontario Autism Advisory Panel report," said Jeremy Roberts, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, in a press release. 

With files from Angela Gemmill