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A4A Position Statement: The Ontario Autism Program

Autistics 4 Autistics (A4A) is a collective of autistic adults, advocating for reform to Ontario’s governmental and non-governmental approach to autism funding and services. We are self-advocates — meaning that neither our parents nor service providers advocate “for” us. We are proudly autistic and united in supporting all autistics in the province on the issues that impact our community.

We couldn’t be more disappointed with the Government of Ontario’s 2017 Ontario Autism ProgramThis was an opportunity for the Government to work with stakeholders–including autistic self-advocates–to develop a plan that serves autistic Ontarians of all ages.  Instead, autistic self-advocates and other important stakeholders were left out of the consultation process. As a result, the current OAP is economically unsustainable and fails to represent the interests of the community it needs to serve.

No autistic representation in the process. OAP’s advisory committee, comprised of “parents, stakeholders and other experts” has no autistic self-advocates as members. While it states it is “free of conflict of interest,” it is noteworthy that most of the advisory committee either work in, profit from or support the provision of government-funded ABA services in Ontario. An ideal conflict-free committee would include community members without any business stake in the outcome of the Program.

Narrow, inflexible program.  The OAP’s “flexible service delivery” is anything but flexible. The Scope of Services is narrowly defined as the provision of one singular type of “therapy” (ABA) targeting one strata of the population–young children. ABA has been widely criticized by researchers and neurodiversity advocates as an outmoded and flawed approach to autism. Consultation with autistic self-advocates and progressive researchers would help to direct the OAC to useful programs not currently supported in its narrow mandate.

Doesn’t represent demographic needs. Other than a passing reference to the Integrated Transition Planning For Young People with Developmental Disabilities program (TAY, a separate program of the Ontario Government), autistic teens and adults are invisible in the OAP. Meanwhile, thousands of autistic teens and adults want to work, go to college, have effective housing and live fulfilled and contributing lives with the appropriate supports. There are no plans in the OAP for education, job training, housing or other areas that affect adults and that needs to change.

Antiquated models. The current method of dividing services into a “Behaviour Plan” and a “Family Plan” is troubling. Not only is it costly and onerous from an administrative perspective, it is an antiquated approach to autism. We might have expected to see this in 1980 perhaps, when the lens of pathology was firmly pointed on a “disease/deficit model” of autism. But it has been more than 3 decades since the self-advocacy movement emerged, giving insight into what autism is, and isn’t. Most jurisdictions now focus on a model of services, supports and accommodations to assist the autistic person (as with other disabilities). Unfortunately, the OAP does not reflect this contemporary approach.

Sustainability issues. Under the OAP, all therapies and supports (“clinical oversight”) are now to be overseen by paid advisors who work in the field of ABA. This new set of expenses means less funding for services themselves. Further, the amount of paperwork generated (such as caseworker teams building a “family story” for each client every six months) is also fiscally unsustainable. 

Time to change gears. Imagine for a moment what could be achieved if some of the OAP’s focus were directed towards job-training and other programs for teens and young adults. Or implementing useful classroom modifications for public schools, colleges and universities. Or housing supports and transitions for autistic adults. Or police-community relations education…

We could go on. In fact, we have a whole list of what’s missing for autistics in Ontario, based on research and our own lived experiences in this province. Queen’s Park doesn’t need to spend more to help autistic individuals: it needs to spend smarter. By working with the autistic community and by studying best practices in other jurisdictions, the Province can develop a Program that serves the community better and more sustainably.  

We hope that the Government of Ontario will take a step in a new direction and become inclusive of autistic voices in the architecture of its future planning, which will open the door for more equitable services, cost savings and greater opportunity for all Ontarians.