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Loss of autism treatment options an 'emergency' in Northern Ontario

Child and Community Resources, the largest autism service provider in Northern Ontario, announced last month it was no longer able to provide fee-for-service options and could only provide treatment for children already receiving therapy.
Autism Rally
A rally was held in Thunder Bay on Thursday, October 3, 2019, which included children and families protesting the Progressive Conservative provincial government's changes to the Ontario Autism Program that were blamed for leading to Northern Ontario's largest autism service provider no longer offering fee-for-service options. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – The loss of autism treatment options from Northern Ontario’s largest service provider constitutes an emergency, warns a parent of a child with autism who is now facing the prospect of having to uproot their family to access therapy.

Child and Community Resources announced last month it was no longer able to provide fee-for-service treatment options, largely as a result of the Progressive Conservative government’s first attempt earlier this year to revamp the Ontario Autism Program. The organization, which said it has lost 90 positions, at the time described the impact as a transformation from a large multidisciplinary organization to a shell of its previous capacity and said it could only continue to provide treatment for 100 children.

Adrianna Atkins, a single mother who lives in Manitouwadge with a four-year-old son with autism, said there is no way for her family to access services in their home community.

“We don’t have options. The only option is to leave,” Atkins said at a Thursday afternoon rally held outside the Red River Road constituency office of Thunder Bay-Superior North federal Liberal candidate Patty Hajdu.

“When you get into the Ontario Autism Program they put you on a wait list and then you come off the wait list for services. You go to a service provider to get the services. We don’t have a service provider any more. It’s an emergency. We need action. We need it now.”

Atkins said therapists had been sent from Thunder Bay or the Terrace Bay area to travel through the rural communities but that is no longer happening.

“He needs evidence-based therapy – (applied behaviour analysis) and (intensive behavioural intervention),” Atkins said of her son. “In order to get that, it has to be continual. It has to have a routine and consistency. We would have to move up here (to Thunder Bay) and I don’t know how I would do that.”

Thunder Bay Family Network president Sharon Bak, noting the proven importance of early intervention, said there are 1,200 children on the wait list across Northern Ontario and their families are left with minimal options.

“Now these children, who have already been waiting for service and had some glimmer of hope that they might be able to get at least some service in the interim before the new plan rolls out, which they’re saying is April 2020 but we’re very skeptical that will happen, now they’re waiting even longer,” Bak said.

“As these children age, it’s going to get harder and harder for them. They need these supports now. We can’t wait. We have an emergency in the north that everybody is ignoring, other than the people who actually care which is the families and the service providers.”

Atkins, who was one of a handful of parents to meet with Community, Children and Social Services Minister Todd Smith at an August meeting in Thunder Bay, feels misled after being initially appreciative of Smith coming to Northern Ontario.

“He told us he heard us. He told us he has a better idea of a plan and the north needs direct service,” Atkins said. “He knew we were in jeopardy. He knew all this and I think he lied directly to us – our families and our children – that he heard us and was going to fix this.”

Following Child and Community Resource’s announcement about the end of fee-for-service options, Smith’s office said the government had provided two six-month extensions to ensure treatment for children currently in service would continue through April 2020 and beyond.

But that leaves behind those who are on the outside waiting for service, Bak insisted.

“They are absolutely meaningless for these families now,” Bak said of the childhood budgets provided by the province as an interim measure. “There is nowhere they can spend them. If they’re lucky enough to be able to spend some of it, it’s going to very, very few that are able to actually do that at this point.”

About the Author: Matt Vis

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