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Autism treatment funding delays impoverishing families

"Duck."

Mića extends his hand. His therapist, Kristina, hands him a small plastic duck, which promptly joins others in the toy pond at their feet.

It's a simple, one syllable request. But for Mića, that would not have been possible only a year and a half ago. This kind of therapy - intensive behavioral intervention - was how he learned to talk.

Four-year old  Mića Jovanović was diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder at age three. Before that, he had difficulties with his hearing that eventually led his family to seek a diagnosis.

"We weren't expecting a severe diagnosis, we were expecting him to be sort of middle of the spectrum," said Mića's mother, Anne Rahming.

"When (the doctor) explained to us that it was severe, we were bowled over. It was a very quiet drive home."

At the time, Mića was assessed as having the understanding of a six month old. He turns five next month, and is now assessed at a three-year old's level. Rahming credits the IBI therapy for his progress.

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children receiving intensive behavioral intervention in Ontario

But IBI is expensive, and the regional waiting lists for provincial funding are long. If Rahming and her family waited the average two years for funding before getting treatment, Mića would have missed the crucial window when IBI is most effective.

So, while waiting for funding, they paid out of pocket from March 2011 to August 2012. The bill was $80,000. In August, they ran out of money for Mića's therapy.

In frustration, Rahming turned to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which gives IBI funding to regional providers, who in turn deliver it to parents. She also went to the media.

"After I decided to get the minister's office and reporters involved, surprisingly money emerged," Rahming said.

That money - which still doesn't cover the full cost of the therapy - means Mića can remain at the Portia Learning Centre, a private clinic in Kanata.

In Rahming's opinion, it means the difference between Mića interacting with the people in his life or living inside his head.

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