Doug Ford’s autism cuts will leave deep scars
Doug Ford’s government is developing a long record of making cuts to the services people need the most. They have added to this growing list of cuts with an overhaul of funding for autism therapy, which typically costs parents thousands of dollars per session and hundreds of thousands per year.
The cuts have generated substantial outrage, with Conservative staffer Bruce McIntosh – who is a father to two autistic teens – even quitting in protest of the move by the party.
The government’s changes involve capping funding for each family at $140,000 to pay for treatment for a child from age two to 18 — well below the level required to provide adequate therapy to most kids. Funding will be subject to an annual cap of $20,000 for kids five and under, and $5,000 for kids six to 18 – but advocates say that need isn’t based on age group, but rather that every child and case is different.
$140,000 over 16 years for a child with mild to extreme autism “isn’t even a drop in the bucket,” says conservative writer David Raube in an opinion piece for the Star. Raube has a son on the autism spectrum and knows firsthand that therapy costs can potentially exceed $100,00 per year. Families that make over $250,000 per year will also not receive any funding.
Parents fear that children who don’t receive sufficient therapy prior to entering the school system won’t get the extra attention they need. Kristen Ellison, who has an eight-year-old son in therapy for 25 hours a week, says that there is “no replacement” for individualized, one-on-one learning for children with autism.
Although $3 billion has been set aside for children with special needs in the province’s 2018-19 budget, a need already exists for more funding, with every school board in Ontario overspending what the Ministry of Education gives them for special education according to the president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.
In a recent development, there have been calls on social services minister Lisa MacLeod to resign amid allegations she threatened behaviour analysts to publicly support the new autism program.
The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts say MacLeod requested a positive public comment from the group shortly before the announcement for the new program was made, and if they failed to do so that the organization would face a “long four years” from the government.
MacLeod apologized publicly on Twitter Feb. 14, saying she made the comments because it’s been “an emotional time.” Her office has yet to formally deny the allegations.
It’s been an emotional time.
Throughout this process my focus has always been on the 23,000 children who were abandoned under the previous government’s plan. This is an issue I take very personally and I apologize if my comments made anyone feel threatened or uncomfortable.— Lisa MacLeod (@MacLeodLisa) February 14, 2019
Doug Ford has made clear that he will not remove MacLeod from office, calling her an “absolute all-star.”