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Ontario parents of autistic children blast government over cuts to intensive therapy

The mother of a severely autistic boy was one of 200 parents who converged on Queen's Park Tuesday, calling on the provincial government to rethink its decision to defund intensive therapies for autistic kids aged five and over.

Government believes changes will mean more children will receive interventions they need

Heather Bourdon, whose son Jacob is autistic, said the family sold one of their cars, used all their savings and moved into a one-bedroom apartment so they could pay for Jacob's therapy.

The mother of a severely autistic boy was one of 200 parents who converged on Queen's Park Tuesday, calling on the provincial government to rethink its decision to defund intensive therapies for autistic kids aged five and over. 

At a news conference at the legislature, Heather Bourdon asked the provincial Liberals to "stop using our children like pawns in a political game."

Her son, Jacob Bourdon, will celebrate his fifth birthday in two weeks and that means he will no longer qualify for the intensive therapy.

Last week, the Liberal government announced a new Ontario Autism Program with $333 million in funding, but changes include limiting Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) to children between two and four. Families with kids five and older on the IBI wait list will get $8,000 to pay for treatment as they are cut off the wait list.

Bourdon broke down when she told the media what her family has endured to pay for Jacob's private IBI, which costs $5,000 a month, so that he wouldn't languish on the wait list.

"We sold one of our cars, some of our furniture, used all our savings, liquidated the equity in our home, and moved our family of five into a one-bedroom apartment," Bourdon said, her voice breaking.

She questioned if Premier Kathleen Wynne and Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles have "given up their possessions to uphold the dignity of their child."

Bourdon also asked how Wynne can "celebrate Autism Awareness Day on social media and then turn to my child and tell him he is not worth giving IBI because of his age? What the government is doing is unethical and wrong."

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and IBI are the only recognized evidence-based practices known to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Bourdon was joined at the news conference by Kirsten Ellison, another mother of an autistic child, Monique Taylor, the NDP's Children and Youth Services critic, and Dr. James Porter.

"The government is abandoning kids with ASD over the age of five, kids who've waited years and years for access and will never have that access," Taylor said. "It's heartbreaking and devastating. This is about a government trying to save a buck by not providing life-changing treatments to kids with ASD and that's appalling."

But Minister Tracy MacCharles calls the Ontario Autism Program "a historic investment."
Ontario Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles says families who have children five years and older on the IBI wait list will receive a one-time payment of $8,000 to purchase community services or supports.

"What this new program will do is take children off that wait list immediately," she told reporters. "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.

"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," MacCharles said.

Inside the legislature, Premier Wynne admitted it's unacceptable for children to be on a wait list for three years but said the new program will give 16,000 more children access to services "and it will provide a continuum of intensive services."

Irwin Elman, a spokesman with the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, doesn't share the premier's excitement.

Elman said the program "does little to engender trust, hope or confidence to families who watch their children inch closer to aging out of a program dependent on early intervention."

The $8,000 dollars the ministry has proposed to "offer parents with children now off the IBI wait list will purchase little, assuming there are any immediate, alternate services for parents to purchase.

"The $8,000 dollars will bring those children little solace, let alone treatment and support," Elman said.

With files from Canadian Press

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