Friday, January 19, 2007

Waiting Lists Grow For Families in Ontario Even as Province Raises Funding for Autism Services

The government of Ontario, Canada, said it would provide autism-related services for 225 children on the province's waiting lists in a $13 million (Canadian dollars) boost to autism programs. This waiting list issue has been a controversial one, spurring a class-action lawsuit by more than 1,000 families in 2004 (see story here via CBC News). The government's announcement (which you can read here) includes a long list of efforts that Ontario is undertaking to train more specialists in behavior-based therapies to help kids with autism.

To judge by media coverage so far, the controversy about waiting lists are still top-of-mind. In an interview Thursday night with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario minister of children and youth services, was asked whether this announcement was "a drop in the bucket" when there's so much demand for services.

Chambers defended the government, saying that the province had doubled its spending on autism services in the past two years, and that a key decision in July erased a previous restriction on autism services that caused them to end when a child turned six years old. The lifting of that restriction has increased the demand for services, along with the rise in the number of people with an autism diagnosis. "There will still be kids on the waiting list, and it will continue to grow. This is not a temporary situation," she said, adding that the government was working its way down a long list of priorities to serve people with autism.

Estee Klar-Wolfond, founder of The Autism Acceptance Project based in the Toronto area, told the CBC that while she was glad to see Ontario think in terms of long-term support for people with autism, there needs to be a broader approach to providing therapies than the behavior-based approach called IBI, or Intensive Behavioral Intervention. (IBI is derived from the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA.) She also advocated for the involvement of people with autism in future policy-making bodies.

This CBC News story online has a recap of this announcement. The Ottawa Sun newspaper notes here that the waiting list for autism services stood at 1,280 families as the government announced its increase in services.

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