Windsor

SW Ont. parents react to PC autism funding reversal with optimism, skepticism

Parents in the Windsor and London areas are both cautiously optimistic and skeptical about the Ford government's reversal on its controversial funding reforms for autism therapy.

Doubts expressed that children will receive therapy in a timely manner

Jessica Szucki has three children on the autism spectrum (L-R): Cooper, Dryden and Lennon. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Parents in the Windsor and London areas are both cautiously optimistic and skeptical about the Ford government's reversal of its controversial funding reforms for autism therapy.

After months of protests and outrage, Social Services Minister Todd Smith announced Monday that the Ontario government will pivot away from its controversial autism funding model, which replaced a backlogged needs-based system with a capped "childhood budget" that parents claimed would not fully cover the cost of therapy.

A panel has been convened to make recommendations to the minister for a new needs-based system by the end of the summer. Until then, children receiving funding under the former program or through the childhood budget will continue to do so until a new program is in place.

"In theory, I think it's wonderful," said Tecumseh mom Jessica Szucki, who has three children on the autism spectrum. "It's what we need to be doing. The services shouldn't be based on how old somebody is, it should be based on how badly somebody needs them."

That said, Szucki has doubts that the government will act in time to help her children.

"This government has shown us that they're not taking this seriously," she said. "Do I believe that ... things are going to change in a timely manner [for my children]? No, I don't."

Sarah Farrants' son, Mason, is on the autism spectrum. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

London mom Sarah Farrants said Monday's announcement left her with more questions than answers about the services that will be available for children such as her son, Mason.

"It's great that they've said they're moving toward a needs-based program but for families who are already cashing that [childhood budget] cheque what does that mean?" she said. "Does that mean they're not going to qualify for what the new program is or they're not going to qualify at 100 percent because they've already used some funds?"

Farrants said all the uncertainty over autism therapy funding forced her to take matters into her own hands and become a therapist herself.

"We're doing a lot of it from home because I'm able to," she said. "I mean he's not making the progress he would if he was working one on one with the therapist the amount of time he should be — but we're still able to do something."

'Hopeful'

Nancy Silva-Khan, director of communications for Autism Advocacy Ontario and a mother of twin autistic children, said her group is "hopeful" about the government's new direction.

She told Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre that she was relatively pleased with the panel that government convened to make recommendations, which includes two members of her own organization.

Her group has also noticed a change in tone when dealing with the government since Todd Smith replaced Lisa MacLeod in the social services portfolio.

After months of protests and outrage, the Ford government will pivot away from its controversial autism funding model. Host Chris dela Torre speaks to Nancy Silva-Khan - director of communications for Autism Advocacy Ontario, and a parent of twins on the autism spectrum. 5:24

"Since Minister Todd has taken over the file, we haven't been referred to as 'professional protestors,'" she said. "There's no more of that tone of anger from them ... it's been very different."

Silva-Khan says she hopes the government's new program will allow parents to choose the type of therapy their child receives while also eliminating funding caps.

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