Two days ago, the Ontario government came as close as politically possible to admitting that they made a mistake. A few months ago, they changed the way the publicly-funded ABA program worked for children with autism. They cut off any child over 5 from receiving services, though they did provide a few thousand dollars so that parents could seek out private therapy.
Given that most private therapy programs run at over a thousand dollars a week and that there were a number of families who had been waiting years for their turn at services, this was not a popular decision.
But they seem to have figured out that they were condemning a huge number of families. The plan announced on Tuesday calls for an additional $200 million over the next four years (to begin in June next year) which will include $ 1000 per week to families with children over 5 who are on the waitlist, so they can seek out private services. They are also planning to increase supports in schools and to families and increase the availability of early diagnosis.
As always, my cynical little brain says: hold off the celebration until we see what happens. Promises cost nothing in politics, it's actions and follow-through which matter.
This does mean that there will be a significant increase in demand for private ABA services, one which I'm not sure the private sector is prepared to deal with. It takes a significant amount of time to train new therapists before they can work with children, which means that if we don't have an increased number of qualified graduates, then there will probably be a fair number of jobs sitting empty.
But there's at least a year to figure this out. And it's a step in the right direction. The government finally seems to be grasping the true level of challenge and costs that families with autism face. And that's worth some cautious celebration.
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