Today, April 2, we mark the UN’s World Autism Awareness Day.
In Ontario, a passionate and dedicated families and frontline autism service workers – including a number of OPSEU members – have been working tirelessly to raise awareness not just of autism, but also of the terrible state of autism services in the province.
The current system is an arbitrary, unjust, and underfunded patchwork of public, private, and sometimes even predatory service providers.
Wait times for both diagnosis and treatment remain very long. Many of those in treatment aren’t receiving the treatment they actually need. And we’ve all seen the headlines about families facing financial ruin as they struggle to cope.
As we say in a letter to Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod, it’s time for government to treat autism like any other health issue.
In Ontario, if you need a heart transplant, you get a heart transplant. Autism services should be no different – if you need them, you should get them. They should be effective, efficient, and holistic. They should be publicly provided, through a direct service organization, which is proven to provide better outcomes for children and government money.
We know this will work because it’s already working – the frontline autism workers at
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) offer evidence- and needs-based treatment and services that are achieving tremendous results.
“A godsend” is how one parent describes the CHEO services. Another parent tells us their child has made “huge strides” since starting treatment at CHEO – “it’s night and day.”
The secret of CHEO’s success? A highly professional and accountable approach that offers all of the services a child and family might need.
For example, the CHEO workers can quickly and efficiently arrange for the child to receive services such as Occupational Therapy or Speech Language Therapy. CHEO can also offer meaningful psychological and respite support to the parents themselves.
The integration also extends beyond the health centre’s walls and into the community. Frontline CHEO workers regularly provide treatment where it’s actually needed: in families’ homes, in schools, and in group homes.
The success of the CHEO model isn’t just good for the children with autism and their families, it’s good for us all. When children don’t receive the treatment they need when they’re young, they can go on to present huge challenges to our other public services: disrupting classrooms, filling crucial mental health beds, and sometimes even ending up in our already overcrowded jails.
That’s why the Ford government should invest in expanding the CHEO model of autism services to communities across the province.
It’s an investment that will help families now, and ease the burden on our public services in the future.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU First Vice-President / Treasurer