Ontario cuts therapy funding for autistic kids older than 5

Caleb Dresser wasn't diagnosed with autism until he was four and now he won't qualify for government-funded therapy.
Caleb Dresser, 4, was diagnosed with autism April 7, but he won't qualify for government-paid therapy. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Heather Dresser fought for two years to get answers about why her son wasn't developing basic motor skills as quickly as she expected. 

Then finally, just last week, Caleb was diagnosed with autism. He is now four.

"We noticed slightly before he was two, he wasn't walking or talking, and everyone took a wait-and-see approach," she told CBC News

Before April 5, he would have had a shot at landing on a waiting list to receive provincial government funding to pay for programs to help him learn life skills. Now, Caleb won't get that chance.

The Liberal government announced a new Ontario Autism Program with $333 million in funding, but changes include limiting intensive behavioural intervention to children between two and four. The changes to the program mean that 16,000 more children will get access to services, mostly applied behaviour analysis, a less intensive form of therapy, the government said.

The new program combines both types of therapy into a single program, which the government says will lead to faster and more individualized services. It hopes to cut wait times at least in half, on average, within two years and to have average wait times of six months or less by 2021.

'Essentially, they're giving up on him'

Heather Dresser says she doesn't know where to go for help now that funding is cut for IBI. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"Finally when he becomes eligible on the list because he has a diagnosis that you fought and fought and fought for, and you're being told the treatment that could possibly help him is disappearing because he turns five," Dresser said.

She will receive a one-time amount of $8,000 for Caleb, but after that the funding dries up.

"It will help him, sure," said Dresser, but she doesn't know how Caleb will respond to treatment because his diagnosis was so recent.

"I don't know how long it is going to take to see all of him that is locked away," she said. "If the government gives up on you when they're designed to help you, then essentially they're giving up on him," said Dresser.

April Paré's daughter is one of the lucky ones on that list. Adyson has been in treatment for nearly seven months now.

Adyson Paré has been in IBI for 7 months. She can now complete sentences, express her emotions and interact socially with others. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"It has completely changed our quality of life," Paré said. "Before services, my daughter was not potty trained, she was not speaking in full sentences, she had about 10-20 words total."

Behavioural issues were also hard to handle with her daughter's "meltdowns" being quite severe, Paré said.

"They would range anywhere from 10-30 minutes," Paré aid. "She would hit herself in the head, she would bite people around her, she didn't have the words to express how she was feeling."

Now Adyson is speaking in full sentences.

"Before [the] services, she had no interest in anyone around her," said Paré, impressed with her daughter's willingness to talk to people.

For Heather Dresser, she doesn't know what to do for Caleb now that he can't get IBI. She says she will keep fighting.

"If I had to move halfway across the country, I would, if they offered something that would better suit his needs," Dresser said.

In 2005-06, there were 753 kids waiting for IBI and as of last year there were 2,192. In 2011-12, when ABA funding began, there were 2,784 kids on the wait list and now there are 13,966. Some children may be on both lists.


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