Ontario Autism program changes will give kids 'immediate service,' minister says

Ontario's Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles says controversial changes to the government's autism program will provide more immediate help for kids waiting for therapy.

But parents say they're being denied Intensive Behavioural Intervention for their kids

Ontario Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles said changes to the the province's autism program will help provide immediate therapy to kids on years-long wait lists. (CBC)

In the face of intense criticism from parents, Ontario's Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles says controversial changes to the government's autism program will provide immediate help for kids and relieve pressure on waiting lists.

​"Our clinical expert committee … is telling us that the landscape of autism has changed," MacCharles told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway Friday. She said changes to autism care will get more kids off wait lists and into therapy.

The Liberal government recently announced a new $333 million autism program that will integrate Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) and Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) therapies, currently in two separate streams, into a flexible service that can provide more or less intense therapy.

But the changes include limiting IBI to children between two and four years old, which MacCharles said is based on expert advice to focus on children in that developmental window.

Many parents say that will come at the expense of children who are five or will turn five in the next year or two, since they will no longer qualify for IBI. The move affects 1,377 children aged five and older who are already receiving IBI, 835 children in that age group who are on the wait list, and a further 1,331 younger kids who are expected to turn five while they are still on the wait list.

MacCharles, however, said changes will pull children off the waitlist and give them "immediate service" in an "advanced program" while providing parents $8,000 to use for therapy and other services.

Kristen Ellison is a single mother whose son has been on the wait list for IBI therapy for the last three-and-a-half years. He's now five, and now won't qualify for IBI under the new program.

"IBI could be Carter's chance at communicating with the outside world," Ellison said earlier this week on Metro Morning. "Until we get that therapy, I'm going to never know where he could have been."

MacCharles, however, said she is "absolutely convinced" the new system is the best way to get children help in the right developmental window.

"They'll transition to a new, enhanced ABA program that will be longer in duration, will be as intense as it needs to be based on clinical assessments," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We need to move away from these IBI/ABA distinctions and make sure we're getting the right treatment for children at the right time."

Parents say ABA is no substitute for IBI, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

"Kids who need intensive treatment will receive that based on clinical assessments," said MacCharles. "The evidence about what gives the best outcome for kids has changed considerably in recent years."

With files from The Canadian Press


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