Changes to Ontario Autism Program Effective April 1, 2019

On February 6, 2019, the Ontario Government announced significant changes to the Ontario Autism Program in an effort to more effectively address barriers to access to services for children with autism and their families.  View Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services media release.

Direct Funding – Childhood Budgets
Reforms will engage a direct funding model for parents and families of children across the autism spectrum. Starting April 1, 2019, families who earn less than $250,000 will have access to new Childhood Budgets to access a broader range of eligible services that they believe are most helpful for their child and family.  These services will include behavioural services including assessments and consultations, family/caregiver capacity building and training, respite services, technology aids, and travel.  It is expected that families currently on the waitlist for services will have funds to access to services within 18 months. 

While OSOT has advocated for inclusion of occupational therapy services amongst the list of services that can be purchased by a family with their Childhood Budget, we have recently been advised by the Minister's Office that the list of eligible services that will be released on April 1st will not include OT or SLP services in this initial implementation.  It is the expectation that for families that have been paying privately for ABA services, the new funding they will have access to through Childhood Budgets may free resources for families to purchase OT services appropriate for their child.  

What are the funding limits?

Funding levels will be dependent upon the age of the child and household income. Families of children entering the program at age 2 will have access to up to $140,000 to the age of 18, based on an allocation of up to $20,000/year up to age 6 and $5,000/year after age 6.  The amount allocated per family will depend upon the age at which a child enters the program.

For more information about the changes to the program visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services website:

Expanding Ontario’s five Autism Diagnostic Hubs

To facilitate early diagnosis of children and to enable families to connect and access services sooner, funding to Ontario’s 5 Autism Diagnostic Hubs will be doubled over the next two years.  

New Independent Intake Agency  

Over the next year a new and independent intake agency will be developed to support family registration in the program, access to Childhood Budgets and to support families in making choices amongst services to purchase.  Over the next year Autism Ontario  will play a role in assisting families with these functions.

Changes to the OAP are controversial.  The large waitlist for services in the province to date has left many families without any access to services.  However, parent advocates identify concerns that the proposed Childhood Budget allocated to each family will be insufficient to support access to the necessary services their children will require.

Ministry of Education Supports to Children with Autism
The Ministry of Education has announced that they are increasing supports for educators and building on existing programs so school boards will be prepared to help ensure that students with autism will feel safe and supported in their classrooms as they transition into school. Read more about Enhancing Education Support: A Plan for Students with Autism.   More information about school-based supports for students with autism can be found on the Ministry of Education’s website.

 

Implications for Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists make significant contributions to support children with autism and their families.  Autism Ontario's 2017 survey of parents/caregivers identifies OT as the second most accessed service for their children, behind speech language pathology services but ahead of Applied Behavioural Analysis services.  See infographic.  Despite the significant contributions, there are barriers to access occupational therapy services in the current OAP.  Occupational therapy services can be funded if they support behavioural approaches.  However, there appear to be few connections and referrals from behavioural practitioners. 

OSOT has advocated for direct access to occupational therapy services which is deemed by some parents to be more impactful for their children.  Meetings with the Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and the Director of the Ontario Autism Program have provided opportunity to assert the importance of enabling families choice to use their Childhood Budgets to support occupational therapy services when these are appropriate for their child.  The Society has attempted to clarify whether the new Childhood Budgets which will be administered by parents/caregivers will enable direct access to OT services and have recently learned from the Minister's Office that occupational therapy and speech language pathology services will not be on the list of fundable services in this first implementation budget.  This is disappointing, however, there remains an opportunity for continued advocacy and pressure for future budgets.  Regretfully, this does not change ease of access to OT services for families.

Many parents access OT services privately and will continue to do so.  The Society's efforts to achieve extended health insurance coverage of OT services would contribute significantly in these situations and remains a focus of our advocacy.  OTs working with families are encouraged to communicate with their clients' insurance companies and to encourage their clients to request coverage of OT services from both their insurer and employer (if their extended health insurance is part of an employee benefit plan).  View OSOT sample advocacy letters.

Monitor the website regularly for updates as OSOT continues to advocate for attention to access to funding for OT services.  We both welcome and are informed by member input - please feel comfortable to share your reactions and experiences related to the upcoming changes.  Forward your input to osot@osot.on.ca.