Autism Doesn’t End At 5

Over the past week, Autism intervention has been a hot topic of discussion in the news and media. Due to the recent changes in Government funding, Autism services of Ontario have been drastically altered.The ministry has made a change to increase Autism funding in Ontario by $333 million dollars over the next 5 years. The changes will include cutting waitlists down and providing autism intervention treatment to children on the spectrum in the “appropriate developmental window”. Based on scientific evidence, this developmental window is between the ages of 2-5. Science has shown that if children are given intensive treatment between 2 and 5, they are more likely to the make gains to reach the developmental trajectory of their typically developing peers. On paper this may sound like a great thing for the autism community, however, this drastic change has left many families devastated. So where does this leave our children over the age of 5? This change means that children currently receiving funding who are over the age of 5 will be faded out of the system. Children who have been on the waitlist for years who are over the age of 5 will be cut from the list. Currently the waitlist for IBI treatment can take between 2-4 years before the children receive any funding or services. The children who will be cut from the waitlist will receive a one-time lump sum of $8,000 to pay for external autism services, which is a large decrease since autism therapy typically costs upwards of $60,000 per year. This $8,000 should be used for services such as Applied Behavioural Analysis, which is usually a specific skill-based program offered 2-4 hours per week. The lack of intensive therapy for our children on the spectrum means that our young children will likely not get the intensive treatment they need to make their developmental gains. The $8,000, as many parents can testify to, will not be very helpful to families. These children will be pushed into the public school system, which in many cases is not an ideal learning environment for children on the spectrum. Those who are currently receiving IBI therapy who are being cut off could experience a major disruption in their routine, which is already a difficult challenge for many individuals on the spectrum. Although science may lead to the “appropriate developmental window” being between 2-5 years old, autism DOES NOT stop at 5. Autism looks different to every individual. Autism is completely unique. Therapy may benefit a child over 5 just as much as a child in the “appropriate developmental window”. Each child learns at their own rate, whether they have a diagnosis or not. Many parents in the autism community would agree with me that autism therapy should not depend on age alone. What does this mean for parents? Many parents are voicing their concerns of these drastic changes. Some report their feelings to range anywhere from mad, frustrated and angry, to scared, hopeless and lost. These parents have spent years waiting for their children to be accepted to the only ‘proven therapy’ for autism, just to be blindsided and told that their child no longer qualifies. Parents will be forced to make a choice whether they enroll their children into public school systems not suitable for their child, or to somehow come up with the extreme finances to afford to put their child through private autism therapy. With the rate of autism increasing 123% over the past 10 years, affecting 1 in 68, the government needs to rethink their funding choices and seek to help ALL individuals with autism who need their help now more than ever. Autism does not stop at 5! Written by:  Aynsley Barron

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