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.
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. On March 21st, government announced an amendment that income testing would not be a factor in access to funds. All children who currently have an Ontario Autism Program Behaviour Plan will continue to receive the services outlined in that plan until its end date. Families will then be able to review it for six months at its current level of intensity.
What services can be covered by Childhood Budgets?
Occupational therapy services may now be purchased by parents with their Childhood Budgets! This represents a move away from previous policy restrictions that funded only Behavioural Approaches (Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)). View all eligible and ineligible services and supports.
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
March 21 announcements that enhance services options that families may access with their Childhood Budgets provide access to occupational therapy services funded within the OAP for the first time! 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.
OSOT's advocacy to promote access to OT services has extended for the past 4 years as the previous government's development of the Ontario Autism Program evolved and through this year as the Ford government identified intent to modify the program. This advocacy was equally supported by parents who told the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services that they wanted and needed access to OT. Advocacy works! Government has moved away from restrictions that the program only fund Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and related approaches.
Occupational therapists who offer private services to children with autism will need to monitor rollout of the program. The first Childhood Budgets are to be forwarded to families by the end of April. Children who are 5 and 17 will receive first priority as they are in their last year of eligibility for the service limit of their age. It is hoped that additional families will be added each month to accommodate the waitlist within the next 18 months.
Many parents access OT services privately and may continue to do so if they use their Childhood Budgets for ABA and wish to enhance services for their child. 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 email@example.com.