Ontario needs to get on with the job of tackling autism
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – The Autism Project
December 03, 2012.
Promises. Promises. It’s standard political practice that whenever an issue of public importance gets attention, the Ontario government reacts with an empathetic pledge for change.
But words are not action. And a two-year-old Liberal promise to strike an expert panel on autism has created nothing but futile hope for parents. Meanwhile, their children spend years waiting for life-changing therapy that could rewire their brain — if they get help early.
As reported in the Star’s ongoing series The Autism Project, it was December 2010 when then-Children’s Services Minister Laurel Broten announced plans to strike a committee of medical experts to advise the government on much-needed autism services. Despite the hopeful presence of renowned autism experts at Broten’s news conference, the panel was never created.
It turns out to have been just another example of politicians managing the message, not the need. And now, two years later — with autism on the rise — the call for action has never been clearer. Ontario needs a one-stop “autism office” to create a comprehensive strategy to deal with this condition. It must also streamline care from childhood to adulthood and old age, when the complex needs of the autistic elderly will overwhelm long term care.
The Liberals need a reminder that good governments care for their most vulnerable citizens — after the television cameras are turned off. They do so with actions, not empty words that leave parents of young children crushed by a bureaucratic mess blocking timely care.
There is just one option for intensive therapy funded by the province, called “intensive behavioural intervention” which teaches children to speak and interact through repetition and reward. There are now 1,400 kids in the program and another 1,700 waiting for their turn.
Before they get that far, many families must first spend months on a waiting list to get a psychological assessment that will then decide whether they will spend years — on another wait list — for the therapy.
One of the first tasks of a new office should be to carry out a study on the prevalence of autism in Ontario. Right now, the province uses an American statistic that concludes one in 88 people have the developmental disorder. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.
Yes, the government has significantly improved spending on services — quadrupling it in the past nine years. But globally autism is the fastest growing disorder and whatever Ontario’s rate may be, the province is struggling to meet the demand.
It’s time to stop dithering. Empty promises waste more than time; they squander lives.
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