The Ford government needs to rethink its autism strategy and make good on its commitment to deliver services by April 2020

2019 — a year of turmoil for the Ontario autism community

As 2019 comes to an end, I can’t help but shake my head thinking about the utter mess the Ford government has made of the autism file. The latest nonsense is that the government has failed to deliver upon its self-imposed April 2020 deadline to have a needs-based autism program in place. Instead the program will be delayed until sometime into 2021.

In his December 17th press conference, Minister Todd Smith blamed the delay on the vast and complex recommendations of his autism advisory panel recommendations report, noting that the report omitted important implementation specifics.

“Complexity” is now the culprit in delivering services by April 2020. Or so they say. Complexity however is not how the Tories found themselves in this predicament.

So, what is the problem?

Let me rephrase this. Imagine it’s the beginning of 2019, before Lisa MacLeod launched her Clear the Waitlist plan, what was the problem?

The problem was the preposterously long wait times to receive autism services. Typically, between 2 to 4 years, sometimes longer. Yes, there were other problems that needed to be addressed, but they all paled in comparison.

The main reason for the excessive wait times was an inadequately funded Ontario Autism Program (OAP), with the onus falling solely on the previous Liberal government who underfunded the OAP for years. (It was only towards the end of the Wynne government that the Liberals raised the annual budget to $321 million after years of budgets under $189 million.) To move the waitlists along faster and service more children, a significant increase in the OAP was needed.

To the Ford government’s credit, they have raised the annual budget to $600 million. Their gob smacking sin is that they have not directed the additional funds towards the wait list children for evidence-based services. Instead, the Ford government seems content in taking their time to implement a new program sometime in 2021.

Keep in mind that the government froze waitlist entries into the OAP in the Fall of 2018, meaning they will denying waitlist children evidence-based services for a minimum of 2 ¼ years in addition to their time spent on the waitlist. This is an absurdity.

This was all avoidable

But here’s the thing, they probably could have walked away from this within the first 2 months of the controversy by reverting to the existing program with it’s new $600 million budget, perhaps tweaking some of the service parameters to be more reasonable.

They will say no government has got this right and we need to take the time to get it right. This is nonsense. No government has funded the program right! Adding and improving wraparound services can be done incrementally, you don’t need to cease the existing program to do that.

As you move farther away from that core problem, you’re bound to go down many rabbit holes, making something simple overly complex. That’s exactly where we are today.

Year end reflection to start 2020 off on the right foot

Belleville protest and visit to Todd Smith’s constituency office, December 28, 2019

Todd, as a reminder, not a single advocate was protesting for you to put together an autism advisory panel. Anyone protesting to put in place an implementation working group? Nope! These were your priorities.

It’s not to say the recommendations aren’t worthwhile, but they are not the immediate priority.

The immediate and urgent priority is reinstating the OAP and getting kids on the waitlist into services. Everything else can be implemented over time.

In business we talk about implementing our “minimal viable product” or “MVP”, and improve it incrementally.

The OAP as-is, is your MVP, and guess what? It can be delivered before April 2020.

See the forest through the trees Todd, if not expect more visits to Belleville and to the front lawn of Queen’s Park in 2020.

Autism protest outside of Queen’s Park legislature March 7, 2019

Political Scientist turned IT professional serving Canadians in the public service. Father of 2 incredible boys on the autism spectrum.

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