Protesters converge on Barretts office

Desperate parents have protested in recent days outside the constituency offices of Tory MPPs.Friday, it was the turn of Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett.The protesters are pushing the Ford government for more recognition and help for children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.The new government showed its hand last week. According to parents who want to improve the life-chances of their children, it is not nearly enough.“In Haldimand and Norfolk we simply don’t have the services we need,” said protester Katie Kocmarek of Puslinch, aunt of a young boy in Simcoe who has been diagnosed with autism.“And the services we have may be going away. The closest diagnostic centre is in Brantford. We’re not even sure they are going to deliver autism services in Haldimand and Norfolk.“The plan the government has come up with is simply not good enough. It’s like saying everyone in Ontario is going to get a free pair of glasses, except everyone is going to get the same prescription. It’s like saying we’re going to buy your groceries, but you have to get by on $200 a year. What they’ve offered is insufficient and is actually a waste of money.”The new program may be insufficient, but protesters acknowledge it is an improvement on the Wynne government’s game plan.The Tories have proposed spending an extra $100 million in this area. The goal in the short term is to eliminate the 23,000-strong waiting list of families who received no help at all under the previous government.Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that affects language, learning skills and social development. Affected families are so passionate about the issue because – in less severe cases – intensive therapy at an early age improves the life chances of children with this diagnosis.But that treatment can be expensive. Language and behavioural therapists can cost anywhere from $55 to $100-plus per hour.Under the Ford government’s proposal, an autistic child age 2 will qualify for $140,000 in funding over 16 years provided the family meets the province’s financial criteria.Funding will be capped at $20,000 a year to the age of six. After that, annual funding will be capped at $5,000. Meanwhile, intensive therapy can easily cost families $100,000 a year or more.Nearly 20 protesters waving signs gathered outside Barrett’s office on Norfolk Street South in Simcoe Friday morning. Barrett met them on the sidewalk and listened to their concerns.“We had to add $100 million,” Barrett said. “The program was underfunded. There were 23,000 on the waiting list who were not getting any help and that wasn’t fair.”Barrett added he has fielded concerns in this area since he was first elected in 1995. It is, he said, a long-standing, difficult problem with no easy answers.Hamilton Health Sciences has contracted with Haldimand-Norfolk REACH for the delivery of autism services in the local area. Protesters said the new program will steer money into the private sector. Some said Haldimand-Norfolk REACH has stopped accepting new clients as a result.Friday, REACH CEO Leo Massi said the province’s strategy is in flux and that his agency is monitoring the situation closely. REACH and other agencies, Massi added, will have a clearer idea of the role they will play once the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services provides further [email protected] read more