The autism problem

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Tue Aug 31 2010

The dispute between a mother of an autistic child and Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara is illustrative of the problem facing our society as we try to grapple with autism.

Susan Fentie-Pearce says she appealed to Sorbara for asssitance in dealing with her 14-year-old autistic son, who has become increasingly violent — pinching, kicking, biting and pulling her hair out. She wants help before her son does any more damage to her or to himself, but he has been on a waiting list for a group home since January. Fentie-Pearce says Sorbara suggested she should have her son charged with assault so that a judge could order him moved to the front of the line. Sorbara, himself a foster parent of an autistic child, says he was misinterpreted.

Fentie-Pearce wants an apology; Sorbara says he has nothing to apologize for.

Behind this back-and-forth lies a bigger issue: is the province doing enough to address the problem of autism as the reported incidence grows exponentially and parents become more and more desperate? Under the Liberal government at Queen’s Park, annual funding for basic therapy for autism has increased fourfold, from $44 million to $165 million. And funding for “complex special needs” cases, like Fentie-Pearce’s son, has increased from $29 million to $74 million. But it is clearly not enough, as parents are becoming increasingly frustrated over long waiting lists for therapy or for placement in group homes. There are only a few such homes scattered across the province, most of them run by Kerry’s Place, a provincially-funded agency.

Sorbara, a former minister of finance, acknowledges that provincial services for autism are still under-funded. “Personally, I would be much prouder of our province if we had facilities where young men and women in these circumstances could receive 24-hour care,” he told the Star.

Confronted with a $20 billion deficit and other pressing needs, the province can’t do everything. But surely treatment for autistic children should be near the top of the list as next year’s budget is being drafted.

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