Sudbury

Northern Ontario parents nervous about future funding for autism services

Families around Sudbury who are impacted by changes in the Ontario Autism Program, finally had a chance to voice their concerns and advice to Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith on Thursday night.

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services met with a group of Sudbury parents, service providers

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith speaks to parents and supporters in Greater Sudbury, about the government's new autism funding program. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

Sudbury parents impacted by changes in the Ontario Autism Program had a chance to voice their concerns to the provincial minister responsible for the file.

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smit​​​h held a meet and greet at Cambrian College Thursday night, completing his multi-day tour of northern Ontario.

Just five weeks in to the job, Smith announced on July 29 that the Ford Conservative government would be reversing course on changes announced to the OAP in February. The original plan met with a great deal of resistance from the public, including large rallies held at Queen's Park.

At the end of this month, Smith will receive recommendations from the Autism Advisory Panel regarding a program "that focuses on the individual needs of children and gets them the services they need," he said.

 According to the ministry's website, the panel is made up of "parents with lived experience, autistic adults, educators, and experts from a range of disciplines like psychology, behavioural analysis, rehabilitation services, developmental pediatrics and research."

The new program would need to exist within the confines of a $600 million budget, which, Smith noted, is twice what was put forward by the previous Liberal government.

Next Steps Unclear

"A needs-based program, the words are great, but what does 'needs-based' actually mean?" Sudbury mother, Sara Kitlar-Pothier asked. Her son is on the autism spectrum. Kitler-Pothier is also part of the leadership team for the Northern Ontario Autism Alliance.

"Each child with autism has different needs," she said. "There are behaviours that need to be addressed. There are developmental concerns."

Other parents leaving the meeting shared Kitlar-Pothier's sentiment. They were happy to have their voices heard, but were unsure of what the future may hold.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services intends for the new Ontario Autism Program to be fully implemented by April 2020. Though Smith said some parts may be available well before that date.

Until then, the provincial Ford government has decided to leave the current system in place. It's a move that Smith says will prevent some children from experiencing a gap in their care.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt is a reporter and associate producer at CBC. You can reach him at matthew.pierce@cbc.ca.

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