The details of the coming announcement on autism therapy aren't yet publicly known — but they're important enough to make one of the government's most vocal critics in the autism controversy dance a happy dance.
That's a literal, not metaphorical, happy dance.
Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau will make an announcement about autism supports for children, youth and families on Tuesday morning, according to a media release from his office.
The announcement comes after the Ontario Autism Coalition has been organizing demonstrations against the provincial government for months, protesting the province's changes to autism therapy. In particular, the parents of autistic children object to the government's decision to take children aged 5 and over off the wait list for intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) therapy, as the government creates a new autism program over the next two years.
But the group has been working with the government on the issue at the same time — and was expected to reach a deal and shaking hands over it with Coteau Monday afternoon — the group's president, Bruce McIntosh, told QP Briefing.
At a meeting with Ministry of Children and Youth Services policy staff on Friday, McIntosh got some very good news, he said. It prompted him to do a dance in the hallway. The coalition's secretary, Sharon Gabison, posted a message on Facebook with video of McIntosh's dance. Hundreds of parents have shared it and commented on it since.
"Hello group, we just came out of our meeting," Gabison wrote. "We are on an embargo (ban) of what we are allowed to share as there will be an announcement next week. However this is Bruce's reaction literally 2 min after the meeting. We are ABSOLUTELY certain that given the content of what was discussed, you will all be happy. Please do not finance your homes or sell your cars."
McIntosh told QP Briefing that he'd expected the details of the policy change would be finalized with a handshake Monday afternoon. Without disclosing the details, he said it will mean that autistic children will get timely access to IBI therapy, without an age cutoff.
"It's going to come down to the details of the document we're working on at this very moment," he said.
"Of course, the devil's in the details and we're to-ing and fro-ing at the moment. But overall there's been considerable movement on the government's side. We just want to make sure that the decision-making as this whole thing rolls out is suitable to the behaviourial therapy standards."
The problem arose this spring. Children had been waiting on the list for years for the therapy, aging out of the window of time — between 2 and 4 years of age — when the it is most effective, according to studies of Ontario's program.
The government removed children aged 5 and over from the wait list for IBI therapy. Their parents were given $8,000 for private therapy, but that is only enough to cover a few months of the treatment. Before the end of the last sitting, former Minister of Children and Youth Tracy MacCharles and Premier Kathleen Wynne had suggested the government could increase that amount.
Parents have spoken about having to sell their homes to pay for private therapy while their kids were waiting on the list, and many parents were contemplating doing so when their children were removed from the wait list this spring.
The Ontario Autism Coalition has been working with the government on autism policy for more than a decade, on and off, and jumped back into action when the controversy arose. McIntosh met with MacCharles and Wynne before the cabinet shuffle to work on the issue, he said.
"This new fellow, he phoned me within 24 hours of being sworn in and got to give him credit, he's been on the file pretty quickly and he's a quick study. So it's been a pretty good two weeks," said McIntosh.