March 30, 2017

Statement to the Legislature

The Honourable Michael Coteau
Minister of Children and Youth Services

United Nations World Autism Awareness Day
(Sunday, April 2, 2017)

Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to recognize World Autism Awareness Day, which falls this weekend on Sunday, April 2.

As the Minister of Children and Youth Services, I am committed, and this government is committed, to supporting children and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I would like to begin by recognizing the incredible network of parents, family members, service providers, advocates, clinicians and researchers who work tirelessly, and with great care, to support those with autism.

To the dedicated parents, many of whom have given all of their time to ensure their children have a voice: thank you. This government recognizes and shares your unwavering commitment to your children and to our autism community.

Last year, our government announced changes to autism services and supports and introduced the new Ontario Autism Program. This commitment was supported with new investments of $500 million over five years.

Many of you have reached out to me in recent weeks, with questions about the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). Many of you have concerns about what the transition to this new program will mean for you and your family.

I want you to know I hear you. This government, and my ministry, are listening. I know how much you value family-driven flexibility and choice in autism services. I recognize your fears, and I assure you that we are working to ensure the best possible outcomes for you and your children. I want to assure you that we will support you and your children as we transition to the new Ontario Autism Program. We want to go above and beyond to help every child receive what they need. I will be corresponding with you directly in the coming week to ensure that your transition to the new OAP can be done confidently and smoothly.

Mr. Speaker, we have kept an open door, consulting and working together with families, service providers, partners and experts, to best address the many complex challenges faced by those living with autism so that they have the opportunities they need to grow and reach their full and unique potential. I am committed to ongoing engagement and conversations with families across Ontario.

Earlier this week, I visited one of our five Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnostic Hubs, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, and met with families and leaders from across the province. I saw firsthand the amazing work they are doing for children with autism in Ontario.

I was grateful to hear parents’ perspectives on the new hubs, and to see the quality of care and attention given to our province’s children with autism. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made so far on this journey.

Since announcing the new Ontario Autism Program last year, we have been listening to parents and focusing our efforts on improving access, supports and services. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide our community with the following updates:

In 2016-17, the ministry added 64 new Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) spaces and over 2,000 families have received direct funding to purchase services and supports. Our investments are also expected to serve almost 3,000 more children in Applied Behaviour Analysis (APA) this year. These investments have reduced the average wait time by 23 per cent for IBI and four per cent for ABA.

Mr. Speaker, I have heard from families how important it is to have choice. Therefore, a direct funding option will be available ‎in the new OAP for all families who want it. A smooth transition to the new OAP for families is our priority. And, I want to assure families that come June current direct funding will continue to be offered through the transition period until a spot becomes available in the new program.

Mr. Speaker, as of January, the five new time-limited diagnostic hubs are improving the availability of more timely ASD diagnostic assessments so that children can start accessing services as quickly as possible.

As of February, parents have access to four new play-based early intervention pilots for young children showing early signs of ASD. These early intervention sites in four communities will help children under three-years-old meet individual goals in areas of communication and play. These are important new initiatives, but we have much more to do, and we are continuing to move forward.

I want to thank the Clinical Expert Committee , which has consulted with community partners, stakeholders, families and experts to inform their work. I also want to thank the OAP Advisory Committee for their dedication through this process. I await their upcoming recommendations, which will inform the design and implementation of the new OAP.

Over the next year, we will continue to work together on the design of the new OAP. The advice of the committees, families and service providers will help us reach our overall goal to create improved access to services, more supports for families, and more treatment spaces for children and youth with autism, across all ages and needs.

Together, we are creating a comprehensive program that responds directly and effectively to the needs of children and youth with autism.

Mr. Speaker, supporting children, youth, and adults with autism requires a ‘whole-of-government’ approach. That is why we are working with ministry partners, such as the Ministry of Education, to strengthen in-school supports to help students transition into and continue in full-time school. We are also supporting education and employment opportunities for young people and adults with autism as we take additional steps to implement the new OAP.

This government, and my ministry, are committed to working together with families at every step along the way.

In closing Mr. Speaker, as our government marks a decade of supporting World Autism Day, I pledge this government’s continued commitment to work together with families, service partners and across ministries to ensure everyone with autism in Ontario has the support and services they need to realize their dreams and reach their full potential.

I want to again thank the parents for their advocacy efforts and patience. I look forward to our ongoing conversations on the design and implementation of the new OAP.

The Honourable Michael Coteau
Minister of Children and Youth Services