Autism treatment should be extended

If your child was seriously ill, what would you do to get them the care they need? Ask that question to a parent and they’ll tell you: Anything and everything.
Here in Ontario, most parents will never have to answer that tough question. In Canada, we have medicare, which guarantees high-quality public health care to every man, woman, and child—regardless of financial situation.
Regrettably, though, some kids fall through the cracks. Care for some health conditions isn’t covered by the provincial health plan. If parents want to get their kids treatment, they have to pay for it out of their own pockets.
A troubling example of the kind of pay-your-own-way health care that’s on the grow here in Ontario is the story of autistic children and their families.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that results from a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Autism impacts the typical development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. They find it hard to communicate with others and relate to the outside world.
An estimated 20,000 Ontarians have autism.
While there is no known cure for autism, there are very effective treatments that help children with the disorder lead normal lives.
While every child is different, and no one treatment works for everyone, one of the best, most successful treatments out there is Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) therapy.
The problem with IBI therapy is that it is very expensive—it can cost up to $40,000 per year per child for the treatment.
What’s worse is that the wait lists for provincially-funded IBI are long, meaning children can wait many months—or even years—before being assessed and then finally accessing treatment.
Many parents—recognizing the importance of introducing IBI to their autistic children as early as possible—have opted to pay out of their own pockets. For low- and modest-income people, that’s too much to afford.
For many parents, getting autistic kids the medically-necessary treatment they need means endless fundraising, drained savings, and spiralling deep into debt.
Stacey Haley, of Bowmanville, Ont., is one of many parents with a dilemma. She is being forced to choose between the love of her three-year-old autistic twins, Owen and Will, and between the province she loves.
She simply can’t afford the high cost of the care her kids need. So she’s making the painful decision to move to Alberta, where services for her kids are much better.
During the last election, Dalton McGuinty promised to make life better for autistic children and their families. He vowed to abolish unfair and discriminatory government cut-off practices, and guaranteed IBI treatment to every child who needs it.
Unfortunately, the premier broke his promise. Not only did he fail to guarantee treatment for autistic kids who need it, but he’s using public money to fight them in court—to deny them the treatment he promised.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no reason Ontario has to make parents mortgage their homes to get their autistic kids the care they need.
Dalton McGuinty should keep his promise to extend autism treatment to every child who needs it—and put a stop to the heart-breaking decisions our friends, family members, and neighbours whose kids have autism have to make every day.

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