Earlier this week, the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel released its report, Recommendations for a New Needs-Based Ontario Autism Program.
Julie Koudys, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Disability Studies at Brock University, served as a member of the 20-person panel, which was convened by the provincial government in the spring of 2019.
The panel met frequently over the summer to consult on the design of a needs-based, sustainable Ontario Autism Program (OAP) based on a budget of $600 million. In addition to its own discussions and deliberations, the panel also considered feedback from individuals across the province provided in online surveys, townhalls, meetings with government officials and written submissions.
Koudys, a clinical psychologist and board-certified behaviour analyst who has provided clinical supervision in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI) for almost 20 years, has high hopes for the legislation that will grow out of the report and is expected to be introduced in April 2020.
“The report includes numerous recommendations for supports and services that will help children and youth from the point of diagnosis until the transition into adult services, including recommendations for better integration of services across education and health,” Koudys says.
“I hope that all affected Ministries— Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health — will work together to implement recommendations across all sectors.”
The panel strongly recommends that clinicians and researchers with expertise in autism make decisions related to the type, nature and intensity of services provided in the OAP, something that Koudys views as crucial.
“Children and youth on the autism spectrum have historically been exposed to a variety of unsubstantiated and/or harmful treatments, such as facilitated communication and hyperbaric oxygen chambers,” says Koudys.
“Moving forward, I think it will be integral to the success of the program to ensure that the program is rooted in scientifically-supported interventions implemented by properly qualified clinicians.”
Koudys also notes that the report offers a number of concrete recommendations focused on increasing oversight and accountability in the program.
“Recommendations such as regulating the practice of applied behaviour analysis, implementing audit processes and establishing standard rates for reimbursement of services are essential safeguards for children and families, as well as strategies to ensure program sustainability.”