News / Ottawa

Autism funding lag puts families in a bind: Therapist

A therapist at Ottawa's Portia Learning Centre says long waits for autism therapy funding from the provincial government is putting some families in a bind.

Matthew Spooner said families can wait up to two and a half years for a program called intensive behavioral intervention, which is offered through a number of organizations throughout Ottawa. The catch is the funding isn't retroactive.  If parents decide to pay for intensive behavioural intervention before they're approved for funding, they don't get re-imbursed, said Spooner.

"They have to wait about two or two and a half years before they can receive some of this funding, so in the meantime they're faced with the decision 'do we wait until get funding, or do we pay out of our own pocket and put our family in lots of debt to help our child,'" Spooner said Monday.

Funding for the program is provided through the province's Department of Children and Youth Services, and administered by the Children's Hospital of Ottawa. According to CHEO, 84 children are currently funded for the program. An additional 86 are now on the waiting list, while 125 kids are waiting to see if they're eligible for funding.

CHEO bills intensive behavioral intervention as a "comprehensive approach that is used to teach a broad range of skills, such as communication, socialization, self-help, pre-academics, and play." The goal is to help autistic children catch up to their peers by increasing their rate of learning.

Spooner said research shows that interventions of this kind are most effective when children are between the ages of two and five - meaning the wait times for funding can hurt a child's chances. He added most children in the area aren't diagnosed until age four.

Asked for comment, the provincial government provided a written statement.

“As of March 31, 2012, over 1,400 children were receiving Intensive Behavioural Intervention; almost triple the number of kids since 2003,"  Gloria Bacci-Puhl, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, wrote in an email.

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