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Parents of autistic children protest cuts to intensive therapy

Funding for intensive behavioural intervention cut off for children ages five and over


Due to recent provincial changes in funding for autism interventions, Rielly will no longer qualify for  intensive behavioural intervention, one of the only evidence-based therapies known to treat autism. 

Instead of funding the intensive practice, which can cost $40,000 to $60,000 per year to provide, Rielly's parents will receive a single lump sum of $8,000 to help support his treatment. 

Last week the provincial Liberals announced $333 million in funding for a new Ontario Autism Program, but also removed intensive behavioural intervention funding for children ages five and over.

Felsman joined a group of around 40 parents and concerned citizens Friday to protest that decision outside the Provincial Building, located at 199 Larch Street in downtown Sudbury. 

“To cut out kids five and over, it's just not fair,” Felsman said.

Valerie McIntyre, a member of the Ontario Autism Coalition, which helped organize Friday's protest, said her 17-year-old son greatly benefited from intensive behavioural intervention when he was younger.

McIntyre said around 30 per cent of children on the autism spectrum are able to recover, thanks to  intensive behavioural intervention, and grow to become adults who can better cope with daily life. 

“Does it make sense to cut off the therapy when they're six years old, and have to pay ODSP for the rest of that person's life?” she asked. 

And while McIntyre said she welcomed $333 million in new funding for autism services in Ontario, she said a large portion will be used to build new service centres in southern Ontario.

The money would be better spent, she said, to provide parents with direct funding to hire therapists who can provide intensive behavioural intervention, and the clinically proven applied behavioural analysis, directly to their children.

When a child goes through intensive behavioural therapy, they spend anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week with a therapist to help them develop their social, academic and functional life skills.

The treatment is tailored for each child so the therapist can focus on areas that require the most attention, said Louis Busch, president of the Ontario Association of Behaviour Analysis, which represents clinicians, researchers and educators who practice applied behavioural analysis, and more intensive interventions. 

Busch said the province never consulted his members when it formed an expert panel to develop its autism policies. 

He added the best scientific research does not support the decision to cut off funding for intensive behavioural intervention after a child turns five.

A comprehensive review of autism research by the National Autism Center in the United States found that intensive behavioural intervention is most effective until age nine.

But because the intervention is tailored specifically for each child, Busch said it does not make sense to attach an arbitrary cut-off age for funding support.

While it would not be advisable to continue the therapy into adulthood, Busch said funding decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Felsman, McIntyre and the other parents who gathered to protest the province's decision Friday afternoon said they hope the cut-off age for intensive behavioural intervention will be removed