Windsor

Province 'still has a whole lot of work to do,' says autism advisory panel member

A Windsor parent who sat on Ontario's autism advisory panel says Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government still has work to do to regain the trust of parents of children living with autism. On Wednesday, the panel published a report Wednesday proposing sweeping changes to a controversial program introduced earlier this year.

'Autism is not one size fits all,' says Sherri Taylor

Windsor parent Sherri Taylor was a member of the Ontario government's autism advisory panel. One of her sons lives with autism, while three of her sons are neurodiverse. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

A Windsor parent who sat on Ontario's autism advisory panel says Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government still has work to do to regain the trust of parents of children living with autism.

The panel published a report Wednesday proposing sweeping changes to a controversial program introduced earlier this year. Among the suggestions included in the report are recommendations pertaining to how families enter the Ontario Autism Program (OAP), how funding is allocated to participating families, as well as revisions to the OAP wait list. 

Though she was personally satisfied with the report received by Children, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith, Sherri Taylor, who serves as the director of education on the Autism Advocacy Ontario (AAO) board, said there will be parents across the province who won't be satisfied with every recommendation made in the document. 

"There's going to be things that people don't understand or don't necessarily like, or understand why we made decisions," she said. "And there's going to be things that people love. It's hard to really come up with a program — autism is not one size fits all."

"They're going to be nervous and the government still has a whole lot of work to do to ensure that this is implemented correctly and that they're continually being transparent and gaining the trust of families."

She added parents will be concerned about how the provincial government processes, as well as how the government implements recommendations. 

"There's still a lot of ... 'We have a report, but is it actually going to be implemented?'" she said. "Parents are going to be very concerned about what this government's actually going to do with the report — how it's going to roll out, how it's going to service them."

Still, Taylor said she hopes parents feel "a sense of hope by seeing the recommendations that we've made."

"And I hope as time goes on, once they start living those changes, that they'll fully understand them," she added.

Though she wouldn't comment on specific aspects of the report with which she's pleased or displeased, Taylor said most of her desired recommendations made their way into the panel's report.

She added drafting the document involved "a lot of robust discussion, and we would debate back and forth about different issues."

'Overall a good thing,' says parent

While the government continues to review the recommendations made in the report, some parents like Windsor's Paula Pallotta — whose son lives with autism — are satisfied with the general direction proposed by the document. 

"I think it's overall a good thing," said Pallotta, a member of Autism Ontario's Windsor-Essex chapter. "I'm glad that they went to people who are in the autism community to look for recommendations from the panel."

Windsor parent Paula Pallotta, pictured with her two children, Ella and Nico, is part of Autism Ontario's Windsor-Essex chapter. Her son Nico lives with autism. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Pallotta said she was glad to see the inclusion of occupational therapy as a recommended service proposed by the report.

"I know a few autism families that have been waiting and waiting … and still haven't received a dime for anything, and still continue to pay out of pocket for therapy, whether it be speech therapy, [applied behaviour analysis therapy] or [occupational therapy]," she said.

"So I'm hopeful that with the recommendations, [the government puts] these things into place to help those families at least see a little bit of hope, a little bit of glimmer."

The Ontario government announced the establishment of the autism advisory panel earlier this April, and walked back changes to the autism funding model later in July.

With files from Sanjay Maru

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