Ontario parents who receive $252,000 a year for full-time intensive behavioural therapy for their three young sons fear the impact of changes coming to the province’s autism program that would slash their funding by 88 per cent.
Jimi and Unseok Yeo of Thornhill, Ont. say they will be forced to enroll their two oldest, Daniel, 6, and Joshua, 9, in public school because they can’t afford to pay for the treatment themselves.
The Ontario government under Premier Doug Ford has said it is changing the current needs-based system and will cap autism funding at $5,000 per year for children older than six. Children six and under will get a maximum of $20,000 in annual funding.
That would mean the Yeos would receive a maximum of $30,000 for their three sons and $15,000 when five-year-old Jacob reaches his next birthday.
They are particularly concerned about the effects the cuts will have on Daniel. He was not speaking, walking or feeding himself when he was enrolled in intensive behavourial therapy at the Autism in the Mind Children’s Charity in Markham, Ont. in September 2017.
“I couldn’t sleep when we found out we are losing our funding because I’m very worried about Daniel and my other children,” mother Jimi Yeo told CTV’s Your Morning Friday. Daniel receives $8,000 per month for his treatment.
He can now take assisted steps, say some words and phrases, and has learned to feed himself.
“Daniel is not ready to go to school. School and therapy are very different,” said Yeo. “Without therapy he’s receiving now, he will lose his progress he has made. I can’t imagine what will happen if he will lose his therapy.”
Suki Choi, founder and service director at AIM, says she fears Daniel will regress.
“The school systems just don’t have enough support and resources to push his walking and other progresses that he is able to make in one-to-one intensive environment right now.”
She said when Daniel came to AIM, no one imagined he would be able to walk. The hope is that he can take independent steps by the summer.
“If he were to go back to school, I think this would become an impossible dream.”
The Ford government’s autism announcement has sparked weeks of outrage and protests. The PCs said they wanted to allocate funds based on age and household income and that the changes would help address a wait list of 23,000 children.
But families and autism advocates say the level and quality of treatment will suffer and that the school system is not equipped to deal with the needs of some children with autism.
After intense backlash, the government has said it would consult parents and “explore” how to provide more money for children with complex needs, scrap income tests, and provide a six-month extension for children receiving therapy under the previous system.
A $140,000 cap per year per child remains in place for now, but parents are bracing for severe cuts.
Choi said the Ontario government should keep autism funding allocations based on the needs of the child.
“There is a saying that if you’ve met one child with autism then you’ve only met one child with autism. Every child is different and their needs are very unique.”
Instituting an age cap on intensive therapy only limits children’s development and potential, she says, and increases the chances that some will remain dependent on government funding into adulthood.