Waitlists Can’t Be the Only Goal

We meet students where they are.

We use a strength-based approach, meaning we get to know our students skills and interests so that those strengths can be used to support the areas of need.

This is my niece, Harlow. She amazes me with her curiosity, boundless energy, and the hard work and perseverance she exudes while learning. She was diagnosed with autism and put on the waitlist for provincial funding when she turned 2. Her 4th birthday is approaching and she is still waiting. As her proud aunt and a caring professional in the education field, I could go on and on about her progress and strengths. But for a minute, I want to share her struggles and her family’s worries, because they are big, they are serious, and they are not alone.

The Ontario government announced this week that they will be eliminating the waitlist by giving every family small amounts of funding per year. The amounts will be scaled based on the child’s age and the parents income, with the maximum being $140,000 total from the time the child is diagnosed to 18 years old. That’s $10,000/year or less. Children over 7 years old when the enter the program are guaranteed less than half, $55,000, meaning $5,000/year or less. The money is to be used by parents to seek out and pay for IBI/ABA therapy.

The therapy my niece and so many other children need is research proven to help children with autism learn to communicate. It is also proven to be most effective at younger ages. The government’s new plan did address the age factor by saying that parents can “front load” their funding, but crunching the numbers, if parents choose to follow the effective guidelines for therapy, they will be out of funding in 2 years or less.

Harlow is non-verbal, meaning she can’t communicate her needs with words. She’s going to start school in the fall, where she will be one of up to 30 children with 2 adults in the room. It is unlikely, in the current system, that she will receive extra support from an Educational Assistant. It is likely she will wander away from the classroom. It is likely she will sob and harm herself when she is unable to get the (compassionate, yet overwhelmed) teachers in the room to understand what she needs. She does not learn the way other kids learn (although there will be several others in her class with similar struggles) and her parents will be told to seek outside support. Again, they will go into debt to get her that support because the funding doesn’t cover it.

My goal has always been to help children learn the skills they need to participate with their peers. I want to help parents find the resources they need to help their children learn, make friends, and really be a part of the community. Whenever possible, I point parents towards public services and those options are disappearing.

I do not like sharing my thoughts in writing or taking a political stand; I am an observer. I love to quietly survey a classroom environment and student interactions so that I can make effective suggestions. Watching the current government’s actions, I am at a loss for what to suggest. Under this government, funding is being cut to services for all ages and we need funding to stay in social services.