Sudbury

Sudbury parents protest Ontario government changes to autism funding

Taking part in one of several rallies held across the province, relatives of those affected by autism gathered in downtown Sudbury last Friday to protest against the new Ontario Autism Program.

Parents say changes limit access to Intensive Behavioural Intervention for older kids

Parents, relatives and activists rallied in downtown Sudbury asking provincial government to change the age limit for Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI). (Samantha Lui/CBC )
A rally was held in Sudbury to protest changes to an Autism treatment known as Intensive Behavioural Intervention. The program will now be limited to children between two and four years old. The CBC's Samantha Lui spoke to some of the people at the rally. 6:51

Parents of autistic children are concerned over the provincial government's changes to the Ontario Autism Program. 

Taking part in one of several rallies held across the province, relatives of those affected by autism gathered in downtown Sudbury last Friday to protest against the new program. 

The Ontario Liberals announced earlier this month that they would provide $333 million dollars in funding for programs that help those with autism, but said they would limit a specific treatment called Intensive Behavioural Intervention — also known as IBI — to kids aged two to four. The province said its experts advised that the treatment should focus on younger children.

It said doing so would reduce wait times, and serve more young people during the key early developmental years.

This change worries Andrea Felsman, whose son Rielly just turned five. 

The Sudbury boy was diagnosed with autism in December, and was set to start IBI in the fall. But with the change, his mother said he's deemed too old by the provincial government and no longer qualifies for the treatment. 

"We were surprised and heartbroken for him and other families that we know," she said. "We've been waiting a long time to have this therapy and we were counting on it." 

She added that IBI would have helped her son in social settings. 

"My son can communicate but he has other goals that he really needs work on. He can't socialize with other children," she said.

"IBI would really focus in on how to have a two-way conversation and give him the skills he needs to function in daily life." 

Andrea Felsman's son Rielly just turned five. She says she is "heartbroken" by government cuts to IBI therapy (Samantha Lui/CBC)

'Lack of representation'

Families with children five and older will be cut off the waiting list for IBI and will receive $8,000 to pay for alternative treatment.

The Ontario government is encouraging families of older children to transition to a new enhanced behavior analysis program. 

However, the newly-modified Ontario Autism Program worries Dr. Julie Koudys, an assistant professor at Brock University's Centre for applied disability services.

The board-certified behaviour analyst says the Liberals failed to consult with those in her field when implementing the changes. 

As a result, she says its unclear what type of program autistic children will have access to after they turn 5. 

"One of the concerns at this point in time is the lack of clarity about how children will be transitioned into these next services and whether those services will be optimal," she said. 

"There was a lack of representation of experts from behavioural analysis on the clinical expert committee. And that means there was a body of research that was not integrated into the current announcement." 

Troy Legault says provincial cuts to therapy programs for those with autism are "perplexing." He says he fears for his son Carter's future. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Changes are 'perplexing' 

Meanwhile, Troy Legault's son five-year-old Carter has been attending IBI therapy sessions for the past three months. 

When the government changes were implemented, Legault says his family received a letter saying that his son would stop receiving IBI treatment in June. However, they were later promised by the government that Carter could continue getting the treatment for six more months. 

Still, taking away IBI is "perplexing" for Legault. He says Carter improved significantly since attending IBI therapy. 

"He was pretty much non-verbal," he said. "The more that he's able to socialize, the less he has to have these outbursts and frustration."

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