A child’s autism doesn’t end at the age of five

By MPP Toby Barrett
There are about 100,000 people diagnosed with autism in Ontario and while that number is on the rise, the Wynne government has decided to cut funding to some of the province’s most vulnerable.
As of May 1, the government is cutting life-changing autism therapy for children over the age of five. The issue continues to dominate debate at Queen’s Park. Obviously parents and affected families are in disbelief.
The success of this therapy, known as Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) can be best seen through the eyes of parents of autistic children.
One boy from our area – I’ll call him Joe – was found to be close to non-verbal in his initial testing for IBI therapy. He couldn’t learn skills many of us take for granted like dressing, feeding and bathing.
After IBI treatment, Joe went from barely being able to speak with a vocabulary of 25 words to knowing more than 250 words.
“You have not appreciated a simple pleasure until you have appreciated something as simple as your child actually greeting you with a simple “Hi dad” while they look you in the face,” Joe’s father wrote me. “This never happened before IBI.”
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ own numbers show 85 per cent of children who receive IBI therapy are over the age of five. There are families who have been on the waitlist for IBI for several years but will now never see funding as their child is now too old. These families were counting on IBI as a last hope for their child’s future.
Research tells us IBI should be commenced early because very young children can gain the most from this approach. Typically this is between 20 and 40 hours per week.
But autism does not end at five and needs do not diminish. Although a less intensive form of therapy is available — Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) — the waitlist has grown to about 14,000.
The government’s accommodation to their change in policy is to dole out a one-time $8,000 payment for families to find their own help. Private IBI treatment is estimated to cost $50,000 a year.
The Select Committee on Developmental Services, in 2014, recommended a coordinated provincial strategy to address autism through appropriate support services for individuals in all communities and regions, including: access to early diagnosis and interventions; professional accreditation for autism service providers; and consistent evaluations and benchmarks for implementing autism therapeutic interventions.
The government has a responsibility to help ensure individuals with autism can realize their full potential. But what we see is a government attempting to balance the budget on some of our most vulnerable. They are doing this under the pretext science backs their actions, but the report the government is basing its decision on does not recommend cutting off children to IBI at five years old. Even the chair of the committee which wrote the report stated there is “no evidence” those over five “might not benefit” from IBI.
Last week, Ontario’s Opposition called on the Wynne government to reinstate this life-changing therapy for children over the age of five. The motion was voted down. This government needs to re-evaluate its priorities, and offer transformational IBI therapy to children over five.