Ontario Announces Commitment to New Ontario Autism Program

On December 17th the Ontario government announced it is adopting the Ontario Autism Panel’s key recommendations for a needs-based autism program.  The 120 recommendations were submitted to Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith in October of this year.  OSOT Executive Director, Christie Brenchley was a member of the OAP Advisory Panel.

The new program recognizes that every family’s experience and needs are different, and that children and youth on the autism spectrum have different levels of need at different points in their lives. 

The new Ontario Autism Program is resourced with $600 million annually and will be built around 4 pillars of service:

  • Core services that include Applied Behaviour Analysis, speech language pathology, occupational therapy and mental health services;

  • Foundational family services for all families in the program, to build their capacity to support their child’s learning and development;

  • Early intervention and school readiness services to help young children access critical services when they will benefit most, and to prepare them to enter school;

  • Urgent and complex needs services to support children and youth who are in service, or are waiting for service, and have significant and immediate needs.

The first phase of implementation will begin in April 2020, to be followed by additional phases throughout 2020 and 2021. An Implementation Working Group  has been appointed.  OSOT is pleased that member Debra Kennedy as been appointed to the Implementation Working Group and appreciates her commitment to serve in this important role.

To support transitions,  government announced that all families on the waitlist who have not yet received a Childhood Budget will receive an invitation for interim one-time funding of either $5,000 or $20,000, depending on the age of their child, so they can begin purchasing services for their child as early as March 2020.  Minister Smith confirmed that this funding model is interim and will be replaced as resources and capacity to support full implementation of the new program are in place.

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Implications for Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapy is now identified as a Core Service, accessible to families of children on the autism spectrum.  OSOT projects that this will increase demand for occupational therapy services across the province.  It is recognized that there are capacity issues to address the needs of this population currently and this will intensify with increased demand.  OSOT will be focused on strategies to increase capacity and the development of skills and competencies amongst our membership to address the needs of this population.

The mandate of the Implementation Working Group is extensive and many components of their work will be of interest to occupational therapists.  Most notably, the Implementation Working Group is charged with identification of inputs to the development of a standardized, clinically informed process to determine each child’s level of support needed and applicable OAP funding allocation and/or duration caps for core services. 

OSOT is committed to supporting this process and supporting Debra Kennedy to bring occupational therapy input to this process.  It is expected that the timeframe for much of this work will fall within the first quarter of 2020.  OSOT members interested to support this work are invited to contact the office.