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Children with autism need our support: Thomas

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, released the following statement on May 4, 2016:

On March 29, 2016, Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles announced that children aged five and above will become ineligible for government-funded intensive behavioural intervention (IBI). Instead of receiving 20 to 40 hours of one‑on‑one treatment per week for years, kids with autism will receive two to four hours of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) weekly over two to six months.

The announcement has provoked frustration and anger throughout the province – feelings that I fully understand and share. It takes up to a year just to make a diagnosis of autism. Because autism services have been starved by the Liberal government, children can languish on waitlists for two to four years.

Many of the children who will be deprived of IBI services have barely begun treatment – or have not even started. While 1,377 Ontario aged five and over are receiving IBI, incredibly, 835 children in that age group are still waiting for it. Another 1,331 children will turn five while on the waitlist. It is unthinkable that parents who have waited years to access IBI services will never receive them.

Some parents have not been able to wait. They have made huge personal sacrifices – emptying their bank accounts, selling cars and possessions, mortgaging their homes – to raise $60,000 annually for private IBI treatment. Others have left family and friends in Ontario to seek help in other provinces – a trend the Liberals, who boast of spending less on public services than any other province, appear to support.

While it is widely agreed that children aged two to four benefit most from IBI, there is no evidence that children five and above are not also greatly assisted by the treatment. Many parents with children over five report continued improvement, thanks to IBI. They desperately want to continue to access the treatment.

But kids with autism are not the only vulnerable children under attack by this government. The Liberals shuttered Thistletown Regional Centre for Children and Adolescents in 2014. Now at least five schools that cater to kids who are deaf, blind, deafblind, or who have severe learning difficulties, are under threat of closure.

The Liberals have billions to give to the private sector to build overpriced public infrastructure. They squandered more than $1 billion to fix their gas plant fiasco. They lavish billions in tax cuts on wealthy corporations. But they cannot find a few dollars to give a vulnerable child a brighter future.

On May 5 at noon, I will be joining parents and their children on the front lawn of the legislature to demand that Minister MacCharles scrap her plans to deny kids with autism the education they need and the future they deserve. I am asking all Ontarians to tell the government to fully fund IBI and ABA services. Remind the Liberals that our kids still come first in Ontario.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union