In March, the Downsview Advocate printed a story about my son with autism, Misha, and what the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) changes announced in February meant for children on the autism spectrum and their families. The article highlighted the importance of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, an evidence-based best practice treatment for children with autism, and how the changes proposed by the Ford Government would not allow most children to access this life changing therapy.
The OAP program changes were a ‘one size fits all’ plan that did not address the individual needs of the child. I was devastated that other children would not get the therapy they desperately needed. As a result, along with other parents and advocates, I attended rallies, visited MPPs and organized my community demanding the government to not go through with those changes.
I met with my local MPP, Roman Baber. At first meeting I was disheartened by his support of the OAP changes, nonetheless, I continued to meet with him. At one meeting, I showed him a video of my son practicing for his Bar Mitzvah and explained this was only possible because of the therapy he received. Roman was intrigued and attended Misha’s Bar Mitzvah.
The ceremony was very moving and meaningful. All in attendance were in tears because they knew how far Misha had come. Roman witnessed the benefits of ABA therapy firsthand.
In April, Roman Baber was asked by Premier Ford to review the Government’s Autism plan. He continued to meet with me along with many other autism advocates and professionals. Baber’s review of the OAP and later termed as the “Baber Report” was shared with the Government’s Autism Advisory Panel and then subsequently leaked by the Globe and Mail on June 28th. In the Baber Report, Roman courageously criticized his own government’s plan and called for an immediate reset to the Government’s Autism plan.
On July 29, the Ontario Government acknowledged that its proposed changes to the autism program were wrong and they reversed the course of the OAP. Many Ontario autism advocates, including myself, praised Baber for his work and feel all the rallies along with Baber’s report set the stage for the government to change its direction and provide families with funding based on the needs of individual children.
The revised OAP announced by the government would be needs-based, sustainable, within $600 million and would treat as many children as possible.
The Ontario autism advisory panel made up of parents with lived experience, autistic adults, educators and other experts from a range of disciplines released their report on October 30th. This report included many excellent recommendations. However, an implementation committee needs to be created in order to implement panel’s recommendations. Implementation of the new program is planned for April 2020.
Many children have lost valuable time not having access to therapy. It will be well over a year from announcement of the disastrous plan back in February to the new OAP program implementation in April 2020. Still, I extend a thank you to my MPP, Roman Baber, and all the advocates that made the government see the error of their ways.