QUEEN’S PARK — Today during Question Period, London-area MPPs Teresa Armstrong (London-Fanshawe), Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre) and Peggy Sattler (London West) each shared stories of hardship from London-area parents who have children with autism, and who are terrified of the impact the government’s cuts to autism services will have on their families.
Sattler was joined by two London mothers from her riding, who traveled to Queen’s Park to speak out against the callous cuts. Sattler introduced Brandi Tapp, whose five-year-old son Henry was diagnosed with severe autism at age two. Henry is non-verbal and incontinent, and has significant learning challenges. After three years on a waitlist, Henry started the Ontario Autism Program this past fall, and has made noticeable progress. Now, Brandi is heartbroken that the government’s cuts will rip Henry’s therapy away.
Earlier this month, the government shocked and outraged families by capping total direct funding available to children under six at just $20,000 per year, and at $5,000 for children aged six and over. With families typically paying about $70,000 annually for their child's intensive autism therapy, the government's allotment is nowhere close to sufficient. And families must have a household income of less than $55,000 to even qualify for the top end of these very limited amounts, meaning many will be left with less.
Sattler also introduced Sarah Farrants, mother of three-year-old Mason. Mason, who received in autism diagnosis in October, is non-verbal, often aggressive and prone to running off. Under the government's new program, Mason will be forced to wait 18 months for service; even then, his family will only get a fraction of the money they need to cover the roughly $80,000 per year his therapy will cost.
“My son…can’t talk, he can’t go to the bathroom [on his own],” Sarah told reporters following Question Period. “Based on [my family’s] income, our son will get less money than somebody who makes less, but who may have a higher functioning child. There’s nothing equitable about [the government’s] program… there’s no hope for parents. They’re taking it away from us, from our children.”
Brandi told reporters: “I would prefer to go back onto the wait list than move onto this program. [The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services] is offering sub-standard therapies to 23,000 children, so that she can look good on paper by clearing the wait list…Families will be devastated.”
Kernaghan asked MacLeod why the government is forcing parents to do more with less. “Parents tell me this program will steal their children’s smiles, rob their words and take away their friends,” he said.
Armstrong said families deserve so much better than a government that cuts vital supports to children with autism. “We will continue to partner with families and push back against these cuts. We need to invest more into autism services, and give families the resources they need to access evidence-based solutions that put the needs of children first.”
In the past two days, about 200 people from all across the province came to Queen’s Park to take their stories straight to the government — all families with a child with autism, all devastated by the government’s cut to autism funding.