More access to services for children with Autism

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The provincial government has announced two new initiatives to provide easier access to services for families dealing with Autism. The Independent Intake Organization (IIO), which will help families navigate the program from intake to funding, and the Entry to School Program, to support children on the autism spectrum entering kindergarten or Grade 1 for the first time, and awarding grants to service providers to hire and train new clinical staff so they can support more families.

The IIO will be delivered through a partnership between Accerta Services Inc., McMaster University, Autism Ontario, and HealthCare 365. The IIO partners bring together significant experience in administering public programs, supporting children and youth on the autism spectrum and their caregivers, care coordination, service navigation, research, and healthcare education.

“Each child with autism is unique and the complexities of everyday life can be daunting for families when dealing with the range of challenges they may face, which is why we are creating a centralized, Independent Intake Organization to help families navigate and access the services available,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

The IIO is scheduled to start supporting families in spring 2022 and will play a key role in providing more families with funding to purchase core clinical services for their children and youth. These services include applied behaviour analysis, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and mental health services. Families of children with existing behaviour plans will have the option to enter core clinical services in the order that they registered in the Ontario Autism Program, or extend their plans until spring 2023, at which time they will begin to transition. This will provide stability for families, while enabling more children to access core clinical services. The government is on track to meeting its commitment of providing 8,000 children with funding for core clinical services by fall 2022.

Beginning in March 2022, children on the autism spectrum entering kindergarten or Grade 1 for the first time will be able to access the Entry to School Program. The six-month program will focus on helping children develop school-readiness skills in communication, play, social interaction, behavioural self-management and learning and attention. Children will be invited to register for the program beginning in January 2022.

“Starting school is an exciting and important milestone for children and their families,” said Cindy Harrison, CEO and co-founder of ACT Learning Centre. “The Entry to School Program will support children with autism spectrum disorder and educators by helping them build important skills to facilitate a smooth and successful transition to the classroom.”

Ontario is also continuing to build capacity in the children’s services sector as it works to attract and retain the professionals necessary to deliver these important services. Through the Workforce Capacity Fund, the government is awarding over 80 grants to build and retain the workforce, including behaviour analysts, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and mental health clinicians.

Ontario is also preparing to launch urgent response services as another key element of the needs-based Ontario Autism Program. This past summer, the ministry launched a regional-based proposals process for urgent response services. The ministry identified 11 lead organizations and established regional planning tables to develop service delivery models in different parts of the province. The ministry will provide more information about these services and how families will be able to access them in early 2022.

Rob More, of the Rural FASD Support Network, gave credit to the people at Autism Ontario for helping to bring the province to adopt these measures. He welcomed the provincial initiatives, and expressed the hope that the province will expand access to services for other families dealing with FASD and other issues affecting children.

“The Rural FASD Support Network congratulates Autism Ontario in bringing attention to the importance of system navigation to support families in accessing needed support and funding. The formation of the Independent Intake Organization will be a wonderful asset for the 125,000 Ontario children with autism in helping them achieve positive life outcomes. We also welcome the additional funding for hiring OT’s, SLP’s, mental health clinicians and applied behaviour analysts within our communities as all neurodiverse children need these core clinical professionals. It is our great desire that the province will begin to take steps in supporting the 320,000 children in Ontario with FASD, as well as children with Multiple Sclerosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD. With our new website www.ruralfasd.ca providing a system navigation platform for children with FASD and their caregivers and giving them the opportunity to share their voices, we call on the provincial government to establish a FASD advisory panel to enable youth and adults with FASD to have a voice at a provincial level.”

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