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October 18, 2016

Statement

The Honourable Michael Coteau
Minister of Children and Youth Services

Autism Awareness Month


Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Autism Awareness Month, which takes place annually in October.

Before I get started, I would like to acknowledge children and youth, parents and advocates. Thank you to those who have already taken the time to meet with me, including families. You have taken time out of your busy schedules to convey the daily realities you live with. That takes courage and strength.

I look forward to meeting more families and caregivers over the coming weeks.

I would also like to recognize the commitment of those who work every day in communities across Ontario to support children, youth and adults with autism. Thank you for your continued perseverance, and please keep up the good work. Our children depend on it.

Mr. Speaker, it is my goal, as Minister of Children and Youth Services, to ensure all children and youth in this province are best positioned for success in life.

That commitment extends, of course, to children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

Our government is dedicated to providing children and families with autism the best possible supports now and into the future.

That is why Ontario is making a substantial public investment.

We have announced an unprecedented investment of more than half-of-a-billion dollars over the next five years to enhance services to better meet children and families’ needs.

And these are often complex needs.

Autism is lifelong. It is complex. The symptoms can vary significantly, and range in severity in each and every child. From a clinical standpoint, we know this means that every child with ASD needs unique treatment. More importantly, we know that this means every child with ASD has unique potential.

We're committed to helping them achieve it.

The new Ontario Autism Program, which will begin to be implemented in June 2017, will foster development and provide flexible, tailored and individualized services to all children and youth with autism.

It will completely transform our current service system to better match families’ needs and help each child become the best version of themselves.

This will mark a major milestone in how autism services are delivered to children and youth in this province.

I am proud to be steering this change together with families, clinicians and advocates.

I understand that families have many questions as we move closer to beginning to implement the new program in June 2017.

Transition periods can be challenging – especially for children and youth.

That is why our government announced that we’ll start implementing the program sooner — in June 2017.

And, we are making sure families are well-supported during the transition to the new program.

Families of children who are transitioning from the IBI waitlist can access funds to help them get the services and supports they need for their children until the new Ontario Autism Program begins.

We are also helping families access an autism diagnosis earlier, so their children can get treatment as soon as possible. We’re doing this by increasing access to diagnostic services through five regional hubs.

As a parent, I want nothing more than the best for my children. I know parents with children with autism feel the same.

I am committed to continuing to meet with parents and caregivers to hear your issues and concerns. I want to know what’s working and what’s not.

By listening and having a clear understanding of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis, we can better understand how to respond to the needs of families.

So, I would like to say thank you for sharing your input and thank you for partnering with us. We cannot implement a change so substantial without your guidance and lived experience.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge our work with other government ministries as we move closer to begin to implement the new Ontario Autism Program.

Enhancing our services requires a holistic approach, which is why we are working closely with the Ministry of Education to strengthen in-school supports to help students transition into, and continue in, school on a full-time basis.

Publicly funded school boards are receiving funds to support children transitioning into school during the new autism program’s transition period. School boards will also be eligible for funding for after-school skills development programming.

We are also working closely with the Ministry of Community and Social Services to improve employment supports for young people with autism.

Mr. Speaker, all of these collective efforts are making a difference. We know we can always do better. A big part of doing better is about understanding more about autism spectrum disorder itself.

Because of its complexity, there is so much more we need to learn in order to better understand autism. Over the last few years, a great deal of research has been done worldwide.

Every year, we are learning more.

Statistics tell us that here in Ontario, there are approximately 40,000 children and youth with autism. That number, we are told, is only expected to increase.

Since 2004, our government has invested more than $21 million in more than 20 autism research initiatives.

We’re also supporting research in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, through a $12.5 million dollar investment over five years in the Ontario Brain Institute’s Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (also known as the POND Network).

Mr. Speaker, as we move toward implementation of our new autism program, we’re also continuing to seek the advice of our Clinical Expert Committee.

We have also established an advisory committee of parents, stakeholders, service providers and other experts to provide advice on the design and implementation of the new program.

I also look forward to continuing to work with Minister of Education and the Minister of Community and Social Services, families and other stakeholders, as we design and implement the new Ontario Autism Program.

In closing, I again want to acknowledge the importance of devoted parents, family members, clinicians, service providers, professionals and advocates who are selflessly helping people with autism live their lives to the fullest.

Your work does not go unnoticed, and I look forward to continuing to work with you as we begin to implement the new program, in June 2017.

I firmly believe that, once in place, our new autism program will help all children with autism achieve their full potential.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Honourable Michael Coteau
Minister of Children and Youth Services