Ontario to change course on unpopular autism funding, minister announces

After months of protests and outrage, the province’s Progressive Conservative government will pivot away from its controversial autism funding model, Social Services Minister Todd Smith said on Monday.

In an announcement, Smith acknowledged that this winter’s autism revamp — which gave families a fixed amount of money determined by their income and their child’s age — wasn’t working.

“We didn’t get the redesign right the first time. I’m here to tell you that we will now,” he said.

The plan, Smith said, is to move toward a “needs-based” program.

Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who also serves on Ontario’s autism advisory panel, said that the province revealed its decision in an email she received on Sunday evening.

That decision was first reported on by The Globe and Mail.

Kirby-McIntosh told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning that the announcement will “bring some good news” to Ontario’s autism community, explaining that Smith was empowering the panel to “go in a completely new direction.”

Smith said he had expanded the panel’s mandate to give advice and make recommendations for a new needs-based program that will “serve as many children as possible.”

Autism revamp unveiled in February

The first iteration of the province’s new autism funding plan pledged to clear a lengthy wait-list for treatment by providing families a fixed amount of money based on income and the age of their child.

That plan outraged families and set off protests around Ontario, with some parents telling CBC News they were losing hope for their children’s futures and preparing to sell their homes to pay for therapy.

In mid-March, weeks before it came into effect, the government announced some tweaks to the original plan — including opening the door for increased assistance.

Kirby-McIntosh said on Monday that a needs-based plan, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, has always been the only option that makes sense.

“You wouldn’t say to a bunch of diabetics, well, you all get the same amount of money for your insulin,” she said.

Smith was pressed at Monday’s announcement on whether he owed Ontario families an apology.

There will be ‘no gaps’

“We are certainly sorry for the anxiety this caused,” he responded.

Smith promised that there will be no gaps in service between now and when the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP) is rolled out.

He said that children still receiving needs-based funding via the previous government’s OAP would be given an extension of up to six months.

Smith also said that children who are already receiving funding through the new government-created system, or who had been invited to apply for it, will also continue to receive that money.

In addition, “more families will be invited to apply” for the new government’s fixed funding, he said.

The various funding extensions, he said, are an interim solution and a “necessary step to getting this right.”

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