Features / Ottawa / Autism funding in Ontario

More money, more waiting for autism therapy

When the Ontario government announced funding for intensive behavioral intervention therapy in 1999, $5 million was set aside for the program.

Twelve years later, the province says it is spending more than $115.7 million a year on the therapy - aimed at helping young children with severe autism spectrum disorder learn to interact with their world. Since 2006, the provincial government has spent $628.2 million on just this program alone according to figures provided by the Ministry of Child and Youth Services.

But despite the influx of money, IBI providers are still facing massive waiting lists. As of June 2012, there were more families waiting for funding — some 1,702 — than the 1,417 families who were receiving it.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of child and youth services, said there are a host of programs available for families waiting for funding.

"There's training available for the families themselves, there is preparation for the IBI treatment. Depending on their age they may have access to other programs, for example transition into schools," Hoskins said. "There's a whole set of services that we make available. IBI is one of them."

The average wait time, around two years, means some children will miss the crucial window between age three and age five when IBI is most effective - or families will be forced to pay out of pocket for the expensive therapy.

Hoskins said this makes getting a diagnosis early in a child's life crucial.

"Parents with children with autism and advocates for them have done a tremendous job at (increasing) public awareness, so parents that have a concern about an infant or a young child have an earlier opportunity to actually seek and obtain a diagnosis," Hoskins said.

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliot said the long-term benefits of funding IBI therapy for children who need it outweigh the short-term upfront costs.

"This kind of therapy and other supports make the difference between (children) having a life either wholly or partly independent," Elliot said.

"It makes all the difference in the world both in the costs to the system, of course, but (also) in terms of that person's happiness, their ability to function in society and have a complete and fulfilling life."

"You can't really put a price on that," Elliot said.

By the numbers: intensive behavioral intervention funding

  • 2011-2012 - $115.8m
  • 2010-2011 - $117m
  • 2009-2010 - $114m
  • 2008-2009 - $110.6m
  • 2007-2008 - $96m
  • 2006-2007 - $74.5m

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