It was two-and-a-half years ago that the provincial government first tried to fix the broken Ontario Autism Program. The program suffered from long wait lists under the previous government of Kathleen Wynne. Thousands of families endured long wait times for diagnosis and then treatment. During the 2018 provincial campaign, Progressive Conservative leader (now Premier) Doug Ford promised increased funding and more services to address the backlog. The broken system would be repaired he said.
Following the PC Party win, there was silence until then Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services Lisa MacLeod said she was going to end the wait list for Autism services. There was even a hashtag created. At the time of her announcement there were 23,000 children on the wait list for services. Since that announcement the program has floundered including the merging of, and then elimination of, several different service wait lists, leading to confusion, delays, and children not receiving the vital services needed.
MacLeod was replaced by Todd Smith. Under Smith’s watch, a transition funding plan began offering families between $5,000 and $20,000 to pay for therapy and services. Many of the therapies needed are expensive. Applied Behaviour Analysis can cost $100 or more per hour. Children on the more severe side of the Autism Spectrum may require 30 hours or more of ABA therapy per week. The transition funding was to buy time until the Ontario government’s new plan could be launched. Smith was replaced in 2021 by Dr. Merrilee Fullerton. Now it is eight months until the next election and there is still no new plan.
Over two-and-a-half years have passed since the Ford government’s first OAP reforms occurred, and the wait list has more than doubled to over 49,000 children. The pandemic cannot be blamed for the failure of the Ford government to address this critical mental health need for children. Three ministers in three years contributed to making a broken system for thousands of Ontario children even more broken. Ford promised $100 million in new funding during the election: that has not happened either. The real question to ask here is, if the problem was a physical medical condition, rather than a neuro-cognitive condition like Autism, and 49,000 children were on the wait list for support and treatment, would this government act any faster?
Children with neuro-cognative disabilities like ASD should not be treated like second-class citizens by a government that took a broken system and made it worse. Fix the system, Premier.