Toronto parents protest Ontario government changes to autism treatment

About 100 parents staged a protest at Queen's Park on Monday to demand the province continue funding autism treatment for children over age five.

Minister says province is looking at its options after parents protest on legislative grounds

Parents of autistic children rallied at the Ontario legislature on Monday to demand that the province reverse a decision to stop funding treatment for children age five and older at the intensity they require. (CBC)

About 100 parents rallied at Queen's Park on Monday to protest against provincial government changes to autism treatment.

The Ontario government has decided to stop funding a specific kind of autism therapy for children aged five and older as it works out the details of a new program. The changes have upset hundreds of parents of autistic children across the province.

"We've been putting up 'Wanted' posters for Liberal MPPs across the province because what they are doing to children at age five is just about criminal," Bruce McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a grassroots advocacy organization, told the crowd.

"We've been going out to their ridings and protesting and they don't care for that very much because they call the cops on us."

In April, 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. The new program is set to roll out in 2018.

Under the new policy, families with children five and older on the IBI wait list will get $8,000 to pay for treatment as they are cut off the wait list. An estimated 2,200 children have been kicked off the wait list because of their age.

McIntosh said the coalition plans to keep on protesting until the province listens to its concerns.

He said police were called after Melanie Palaypayon, a mother of an autistic child, allegedly called Mississauga-Streetsville MPP Bob Delaney about the changes, and they were called Sunday when coalition members went to the Liberal nomination meeting in Scarborough-Rouge River to raise the issue. Delaney has apologized for the incident involving Palaypayon.

"They don't like us because we're proving that what they're saying is not correct. They are wrong. It's a bad move. The science doesn't justify it. It's the wrong thing to do. We are making them uncomfortable."

McIntosh said the coalition has been protesting for more than a month. He said the coalition will inject the issue in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection campaign. 

"Parents of children with autism need support immediately," Sharon Gabison, secretary-treasurer of the coalition, said after the protest.

"We want all children in Ontario with autism who need intervention to get it at the intensity they require. We want something in place for children right now.

"Many of these parents cannot wait a week. They need help now."

Tracy MacCharles, Ontario children and youth services minister, said the government is committed to its new autism program. But she said the provincial is open to making changes to help families with the transition to a new program.

"There's absolute room, in the conversations that are happening now, in terms of what the new program will look like," MacCharles said.

"I know there's some families who have some significant concerns. We're hearing that some families want more choice going forward."