Mississauga Parents Protest Changes to Ontario Autism Program

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Many parents are deeply upset by changes to the Ontario Autism Program and they've taken their anger to Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa. 

According to a recent article in the Mississauga News, unhappy parents of autistic children demonstrated outside of Sousa's office late last week to show their extreme disapproval of changes proposed by the provincial Liberals that will be implemented over the next two years. 

When the changes were first announced at the beginning of April, the stated goal was to shorten wait times for children who were waiting to begin government-covered intensive behavioural intervention (IBI). While shorter wait times are almost always good news, there was a striking and difficult caveat: the program would no longer be available to children five years of age and older. 

The new age limits have parents deeply worried. 

According to The News, over 60 protestors descended on Sousa's office to protest the reforms, waving placards and signs that reminded people that "autism doesn't end at 5." The News reports that the Ontario Autism Coalition organized rallies at Liberal MPP offices throughout the province to draw attention to the controversial changes. 

Local rally organizer Josie Chaves, who has a four-year-old son who's been on the waitlist for close to three years, told The News that the announcement "blindsided" her and her husband, telling the newspaper, "we felt like we had a light at the end of the tunnel and it's gone dark." Chaves told The News that her family has spent about $30,000 on private IBI treatment. While her son currently receives about 12 hours of treatment a week, Chaves said that IBI treatment typically involves 21 hours a week -- substantially more than her son is receiving at present. Chaves told The News that she believes the decision is robbing her non-verbal son of a future and that it's motivated by money rather than sound medical evidence. 

The changes are part of a plan to invest $333 million in autism services over the next five years while reducing wait times and offering age appropriate treatments. The government has said that families and experts were consulted on the changes and that evidence shows that the IBI program best serves children aged two to four. Children who are five and older who are currently involved the program will be transitioned to Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) services -- services that will, the government says, increase in intensity and duration over the next four years. 

Families dropped from the IBI waitlist will receive $8,000 for community services or support. 

According to The News, Sousa was not in his office during the protest, but said that he does want to speak to the parents and understands their worry. He also said that the government's decision is well informed.

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