A local family formed their own rally in unity with those at Queens Park protesting the changes in provincial autism funding Thursday.
Jeff Moco's son Cruz has the neurobehavioral condition and said many families in Chatham-Kent aren't happy with Premier Doug Ford's plan to change how funding and services are run, especially in the municipality.
Hundreds gathered outside the Queens Park Legislative Assembly in downtown Toronto on Thursday to protest the plan from the PC Government to put a cap on funding regardless of the severity of the condition. Moco said due to his son's condition he couldn't go because he doesn't react very well to loud noises and crowds.
The plan from the Ford government is to clear the current waitlist for those being diagnosed for autism within the next two years. The government also want to allow maximum funding of $140,000 for kids who enter treatment at two years old and $55,000 for those who enter treatment at seven years old or later.
Those numbers are totals for the kids lifetime, something Moco deeply disagrees with.
"The scariest issue for us is that there's going to be lots of kids who aren't going to get the evidence-based treatments that they need and will be dumped off into our school system," Moco said. "The system is already spread thin in terms of special education funding. What cuts are going to come next?"
According to Moco, autism is a spectrum and some kids with the condition need more support than others. He said the government allotting the same amount to families regardless of the severity, makes them seem misinformed and misguided.
Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls said he has received a lot of letters from angry families concerning the changes but added it is a small fraction of the big picture. According to Nicholls, only 25 per cent of autistic kids have been diagnosed, which leaves 23,000 that haven't been yet ineligible for funding.
"So a lot of people weren't getting the funding but there was a lot of money going to the top end," Nicholls said. "The first thing our government did was send our minister [Lisa Thompson] to the treasury board and she had to wrestle to get an additional $101 million of funding for autism. Really and truly is it still grossly underfunded? Well, yeah and we know that. The point is, we just don't have the money because of the deficit we were faced with."
For Moco's family, he said luckily the changes will impact them the least of the families he knows. He said Cruz was able to get a lot of support at an early age which has helped his development. According to Moco though, his fight is for the other families who don't have access to services or will see their funding cut to the point they won't be able to get the services needed.
Moco said families affected by autism form a close-knit community and there are about 150 people with the condition in the municipality. He added there is only one regional provider for autism support in Chatham-Kent and he is afraid if its funding is cut, it may have to close down which would force families to make a tough decision.
"In terms of autism treatment available locally, I am worried we are going to turn into a desert," Moco said. "It's going to force people to think 'can I even live here anymore? Do I have to move to Alberta, or New Brunswick or a bigger city?' To me, you shouldn't have to do that because we are such an awesome province and an awesome country that it's a shame you have to think that way."
Nicholls said he was concerned about having enough service providers as well, especially with the government trying to streamline diagnoses.
"It's a major challenge we are being faced with," Nicholls said. "Is the system perfect? I'll go on record and simply say no it isn't perfect but is [the new way] better than what it is? Well if you look at the full spectrum then I would say yes because more people are being aided by government help."
Nicholls admitted families with children who have extreme autism won't be able to get the funding they are used to or perhaps need.
He added the main point of trying to get kids diagnosed as quickly as possible though, is to try and get them treatment as early as possible too. Nicholls said the earlier a child with autism gets treated the better they will react to it. According to Nicholls, families are waiting months or longer to get the results and then they have to wait longer to get the funding and wait again to get into services. He said the current process is simply too long.
Perhaps the last of Moco's concerns is the communication, or lack thereof, the government has made with those affected families. Himself and families have reached out to their MPPs and Moco said they have gotten "canned" responses.
"Really when you look at the details, they're spreading misinformation and false hope," Moco said. "Really it's like our needs and our questions aren't being heard. Some families are saying they haven't had any response from their people."
Nicholls assured Blackburn News he has responded to concerns about the changes in autism funding as fairly and concisely as possible.