-2.2 C
Friday, December 6, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Local autism services in limbo as province vows to change course

KidsAbility not sure if policy change will halt lay off plans of 20-25 autism workers


Restored Victorian home in Elmira the subject of TV competition

Along with the influx of visitors that comes with the holiday season, Elmira will see one new...

New MP jumps to the next stage

Ever since he was elected as the new Liberal Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Conestoga during the October...

Meet the candidates

By Veronica Reiner & Aneta Rebiszewski Five candidates are vying for your vote in...

Historical Society Annual General Meeting

The 42nd Annual General Meeting of the Historical Society of St. Boniface and Maryhill Community was held...


broken clouds
-2.2 ° C
0 °
-4.4 °
95 %
75 %
-3 °
1 °
4 °
7 °
-2 °

It’s still too early to say what, if any impact the province’s course reversal on autism programs will have on KidsAbility’s recent announcement it would be laying off 20 to 25 workers at year’s end.

The Ford government’s mea culpa on its handling of the autism file is the latest in a protracted battle between the province and parents of autistic children.

In February, the provincial government announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program, opting to give money directly to families based on age and income, rather than to regional service providers such as KidsAbility. The decision to do so instead of a needs-based funding model sparked a multitude of protests across the province, including in Elmira.

KidsAbility, which serves approximately 8,000 kids a year across Waterloo Region and Guelph-Wellington, had provincial funding cut by 25 per cent in April. This forced the organization to lay off nine workers at the time – eight therapists and a social worker – which officials said is a direct result of the provincial changes. This latest move, which will see approximately half of the autism staff laid off at the start of next year, is yet another impact of the fee-for-service model.

“Our board has elected to go forward with a model that unfortunately required us to lay off 50 per cent of our autism staff because every expenditure we have now in the autism program has to be offset by families paying for the service, either through their childhood budget or through another source of income that they might have,” explained Linda Kenny, chief executive officer at KidsAbility.

The layoffs have an impact not only on families in need of these services, said Kenny, but also discourage students and skilled workers from pursuing a career in autism therapy.

“We’re not sure what those job opportunities will be for those staff in the future. We’re finding that many of them are walking away from the profession or they’re deciding to retrain and do something else because this is difficult and challenging work,” said Kenny. “It’s highly specialized work, and we need to actually recognize the skills that passionate, caring people bring to their profession.”

They may have a change of luck, however, as new Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith announced on Monday at a press conference in Toronto that the government will design a new funding program based on needs.

“My message to families of children and youth with autism is, we have heard you, and we are taking action,” said Smith in a release. “Our government is committed to a needs-based program that provides children and youth with the supports they need to thrive.”

The program will work on a $600 million budget, he said.

A spokesperson for KidsAbility noted that it was too early to reconsider the layoffs until more details were announced, however.

This would replace the controversial original plan that saw caps on spending as families with children under age six would receive up to $20,000 a year with a lifetime maximum of $140,000. Children over six year of age were eligible for up to $5,000 a year, with the cap at $55,000.

Autism is a developmental disorder with a wide range of symptoms from mild to severe, and intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 annually.

Jennifer Beckett, a Waterloo parent and part of the Waterloo Region Alliance Against Autism Funding Changes, was one of the many parents vocal about her disapproval of the original plan. She called it a one-size-fits-all approach that would end up adequately serving very few families.

“It’s like eyeglasses: if they give everybody the same pair of glasses, for some kids, it’ll be just the right amount –they’ll be able to see with them no problem; other kids didn’t need glasses at all. And other kids still can’t see because the glasses are nowhere near strong enough to what they need to function and have a good life,” said Beckett.

Her nine-year-old son having attended KidsAbility, she noted that the organization has been instrumental in shaping his development from a young age.

“For us, KidsAbility was a huge partner for our family altogether,” said Beckett. “They helped my son in so many ways – from being not being able to speak, or manage toilet training, all of that… They helped him with all of the skills he needed to be successful at school.

“So I’m just really sad for all the families who are currently in service there, who know their service will end unless something changes with the government plan. New families don’t even have that opportunity to go there.”

While the province as vowed to take a new course, parents are still waiting to find out what that will mean. The government said that the new plan would not be fully rolled out until April of 2020.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.


Strong demand for traditional real Christmas trees can exceed supply

With Christmas just a few weeks away there’s only a short time left to pick out the perfect tree, but what will you choose: real or fake? Many retailers are facing dilemmas that...

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

You obviously love community journalism. Thanks for visiting today. If you have a great local story, let us know.

Getting drivers to slow down a slow process in Woolwich Township

Traffic issues, particularly speeding, are a frequent source of public complaints received by Woolwich officials. Often more perception than reality, the topic is...

Answering the childhood question that rolls around at the holidays

Get into the Christmas spirit with a fresh retelling of a classic tale inspired by real events in Elora Community Theatre’s lastest offering.

Jacks fall to second after losing twice over the weekend

Sunday’s lousy weather may not have been to everyone’s liking, but the Wellesley Applejacks might have been the only ones happy...

Woolwich to attach overdue water bills to property taxes in bid to simplify collections process

Looking to simplify the collection process for overdue water and sewer bills – and increase the chance of getting its hands on...

Putting the cold on ice with the annual hat and mitten toss at Saturday’s Sugar Kings game

There’ll be no need to wait until somebody scores three goals to toss hats out onto the ice, as the Elmira Sugar...

Kings win another pair, solidify hold on first place

Seven is considered a lucky number. The Sugar Kings likely agree after putting up seven goals twice on route to a pair...
- Advertisement -