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April 5, 2016

Statement

The Honourable Tracy MacCharles
Minister of Children and Youth Services

United Nations World Autism Awareness Day


Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Surrey Place Centre - a renowned organization that works diligently to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and autism - to make an important announcement about autism services in Ontario. Like Surrey Place, our government is committed to making a difference for young people with autism and their families. We've invested heavily in autism services for children and youth, increasing our investments by 120% since 2004. But times have changed since we implemented our first autism program over a decade ago.

As science progressed and we continued to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, prevalence rates have continued to increase and so have wait times for key services. Despite our annual investments of over $190 million, families and children still face wait times of upwards of two years. We've listened to parents, service providers, medical and clinical experts and we know that the current system isn't meeting the needs of Ontario families.

That is why I am delighted and proud to stand before this House. A few short days after World Autism Day. To reaffirm our government's investment of an additional $333 million over the next five years so children and youth with autism receive support at the right time and services are better matched to their needs. To make this happen, we are moving to an expanded and integrated autism program. One that will make it easier for families to access services for their children.

And one where children will receive services that are more flexible and responsive, based on their individual needs. Families, stakeholders and experts - including the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical Expert Committee - have told us that current autism programs are not serving the right children at the right time. And that children with autism and their families need a more responsive and comprehensive continuum of services. So what will our new Ontario Autism Program mean for children with autism and their families?

The short answer is better outcomes. Much better outcomes. Among other benefits, children and families will receive services sooner. Within two years, provincial wait times are projected to drop by more than half, on average. By 2021, the goal is to achieve average wait times of six months or less in the new Ontario Autism Program. Families will have better service experiences - with one entry point into an integrated program.

More children will be able to access intensive services during the critical developmental window of age two to four. All children with autism will be able to access more intensive ABA services based on their needs. These services will be more flexible so the intensity can be adjusted based on each child's needs, and they will be up to three times longer than the ABA services children receive today. And more children will receive individualized services based on their needs – with more than 16,000 new spaces being created over the next five years. Importantly, the new Ontario Autism Program will also allow children to transition between interventions at varying levels of intensity as their needs change over time.

Mr. Speaker, we know our changes are bold, but they are grounded in research and scientific evidence. Clinical and research evidence compiled by the expert committee informed their numerous recommendations on how to improve service delivery for children with autism in Ontario. These recommendations, in turn, informed our work to date on the new Ontario Autism Program. They also reflect the most current evidence which suggests that providing early interventions during the key developmental years can have an important impact on a child's developmental outcomes.

We will continue to seek guidance from the expert committee as we move forward with our changes. The changes we are making will take time to implement. And we need to get this right. That is why we are supporting children and families as we transition to the new autism program over the next two years. The families of children over the age of five who are currently on the waitlist for IBI services will receive $8,000 in one time funding to immediately purchase the services best suited to their child's specific needs. This is more than what is provided in other Canadian jurisdictions.

And, Speaker, these families will still be eligible for enhanced and more appropriate developmental services for their child. As we implement the new, integrated Ontario Autism Program, service providers will work closely with families to ensure the smoothest transition possible. We also will be hosting online sessions in partnership with Autism Ontario for families to learn more about the new Ontario Autism Program.

And my ministry will establish an advisory group of service providers, parents and other experts to provide strategic advice during the transition to the new program. We are also mindful that Ontarians with autism need support throughout their lives. That is why we will continue partnering across government to strengthen supports for all people with autism, including students while they are in school and youth transitioning to post-secondary education, employment and community life.

Mr. Speaker, our government knows that change is not always easy. But we also know that we are doing the right and fair thing by all children and youth with autism in Ontario. And that they and their families deserve nothing less than our absolute best efforts. While our significant investment is another step forward for children and youth with autism and their families, we recognize that our work is not yet done. With the ongoing support of our dedicated partners, our government will continue working hard so all young people with autism in our province have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.