Report & Recommendations of Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel Released

On October 30, 2019, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith, released the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel Report which positions recommendations for the development of a new needs-based Ontario Autism Program to serve the needs of children and youth on the autism spectrum and their families.

The Report positions over 100 recommendations to improve services to be delivered on a needs basis, with a goal to serve as many children and youth as possible within a set budget of $600 million and addressing needs for program sustainability.

The Panel was comprised of parents with lived experience, autistic adults, experts from a range of professions and researchers.  OSOT’s Executive Director, Christie Brenchley, was appointed to the Panel.

The Panel’s work was supported by the inputs to an extensive public consultation which included written submissions, telephone town hall meetings, an online survey, and MPP roundtables across the province.

Recommendations include provisions for;

  • Early intervention services (autism specific, evidence-based, caregiver mediated) for all children up to age 6 registered in the Ontario Autism Program.
  • An Urgent Response Pathway to assure access to services for families to provide time-limited crisis prevention support for children/youth who meet specific requirements.
  • Foundational Supports universally accessible throughout a child/youth/family’s time in the OAP.
  • Core OAP Services to include Applied Behaviour Analysis, Speech Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Mental Health Services, and access to specific Technology.
  • Targeted supports for indigenous families, francophone families, non-speaking children and youth, northern, rural and remote families and other marginalized families.
  • Assignment of a Care Coordinator for each OAP family.
  • More effective linkages with Ministry of Health mental health services, the Ministry of Education supports for children/youth on the ASD spectrum and MCCSS School Based Rehabilitation Services.
  • A global annual service cap for families to be determined based on their child’s needs and specific core service caps based on Best Practice Guidelines.
  • An Implementation Committee to be struck to advance development of a multitude of new measures required if the program recommendations are supported by government.

View MinisterSmith’s October 30th Announcement.

The Minister has indicated he will review the Report in more detail before announcing implementation.  He has previously promised the autism community a new program for April 2020.

Implications for Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists working with children and youth on the autism spectrum are encouraged to review the Report thoroughly.  If supported, occupational therapy will be supported to be publicly funded under the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) when parents identify that this service can meet the needs of their child.   The Report recommends the development of Best Practice Guidelines for each Core Service to both inform parents and enable accountability within the program for the delivery of quality, evidence-based services.

If recommendations are supported, the profession will need to support the development of best practices for occupational therapy services for children/youth on the autism spectrum.  Experienced clinicians and researchers are required for this task.

The capacity demands to meet the needs of children/youth and families across the province are significant.  The demand for occupational therapy already outstrips current resources.  Strategies within the profession to develop skills, competence and expertise to treat and support children and their families are needed.   Occupational therapists working in children/youth mental health, will note the demand for mental health services targeted to meet the unique needs of those on the autism spectrum.  The Panel’s recommendations identify a need for both private providers (funded by parents’ annual allocation) and public providers to serve the diverse needs of families across the province.

The recommendations for better integration of OAP services and school-based rehabilitation services may impact occupational therapists working in the school system.

Occupational therapists interested in linking to address and support transition issues are invited to contact the Society.