‘Shame on you all!’; Families of children with autism brought their anger and heartbreak to Queen’s Park

Toronto Star 
Wed Apr 13 2016 
Byline: Andrea Gordon Toronto Star 

More than 200 parents arrived at Queen’s Park on Tuesday bringing anger and heartbreak as they protested against changes to autism services for children. 

In the legislature, families heckled and opposition leaders blasted Premier Kathleen Wynne for taking away the therapy many children have waited half their lives to get. A cabinet minister broke down in tears. And a distraught mother who stood up and yelled “liar” from the public gallery was ejected.

A new rule that kids 5 and over are no longer eligible for intensive treatment funded by the province “leaves a whole generation behind,” Kristen Ellison of Cobourg told a news conference watched by overflow crowds who came from all over Ontario. 

Her son Carter has waited three years for intensive behavioural treatment (IBI) and turns 5 in two weeks. Heather Bourdon of Ottawa wiped away tears and said the government is sending the message that children like her son Jacob, who also soon turns 5, is “a hopeless cause.” 

The new Ontario autism program was announced last month as part of plan to invest $333 million in autism services over the next five years. 

Wynne and Tracy MacCharles, minister of children and youth services, have defended the changes, arguing they will cut wait lists for IBI from an average of 29 months to six months by 2021 and ensure children get IBI at age 2 to 4, when it’s most beneficial, as recommended by their expert advisory panel. 

The decision means 2,200 children will be removed from wait lists over two years. Another 1,378 in treatment will be transitioned out – more than half now receiving IBI. 

Children taken off wait lists get $8,000 and next year can apply for less-intensive applied behaviour analysis therapy. The ministry has said school supports will be enhanced, but no details were given. 

On Tuesday, NDP children’s services critic Monique Taylor accused Wynne of creating “a lost generation of kids” and repeated a demand that those on wait lists be grandfathered. 

That idea was echoed by Irwin Elman, provincial advocate for children and youth, who also urged the ministry to postpone its plans. 

(c) 2016 Torstar Corporation