Autism coalition eager for provincial meetings on funding

By Kevin Jeffrey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY – The Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) is hoping to get more specifics from the province when it comes to annual funding.

The provincial government released the 2024 budget on March 26, which included a promise to increase the investment in the Ontario autism program by $120 million in 2024-2025.

“What we thought was a $120 million increase turns out to only be an operational increase of $60 million from the previous year,” stated Alina Cameron, president of the OAC.

“The $60 million increase from last year was a one-time increase, so our understanding is that they are just adding $60 million on top of that.

“Any increase in that amount is welcomed by the community but we aren’t entirely clear on how those funds will be spent.”

Cameron said there is a trip planned to Queen’s Park at the end of the month where she is hoping to speak with members of provincial parliament to get clarification.

The government noted previously that the funding will help support its commitment to enroll 20,000 children and youth in core clinical services.

Cameron claimed that the province’s definition of enrollment has changed.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that those families and kids have the funding in hand, but that the money is supposed to go towards enrolling 20,000 children into core autism services. Our question is why aren’t they committing to helping all children who are on the wait list?” she said.

Documentation provided by the OAC indicated there are more than 67,000 children and youth registered for the program with nearly 50,000 of them having no core funding.

Cameron added that a lot of families in the North have the funding in hand to spend on core services for their autistic child, but nowhere to spend it.

“In northern, rural and remote locations, we don’t have the same level of capacity as larger urban centres in the province do,” Cameron said.

“We will be discussing these things in our meetings with the Northern MPPs as well as wait times for diagnosis and the ability to get on a diagnostic wait list.

“Sometimes I don’t think the barriers are always clear to the politicians who put these policies together so we’re hoping to communicate where our families are getting stuck along the way.”