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Parents could see impact of provincial autism changes immediately

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COTTAGE COUNTRY, ON – A group that helps kids with autism is calling the new provincial guidance on the condition positive.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services released recommendations from the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel Report. The announcement provided advice for a sustainable, needs-based provincial Autism Program.

Hands is one of the lead agencies for child and youth mental health in Muskoka, Nipissing and Parry Sound.

Dr. Karen Miscio is the senior manager and psychologist of autism services with the organization. She said her colleagues liked what the ministry came up with.

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“The process itself was quite thoughtful,” Miscio said. “The recommendations that the panel put together really align with the consultations we had with families. One really important thing is that the ministry noted that services in the north need to look different.”

The doctor added families who live in places where access sometimes isn’t possible have different needs than those in urban centers.

Another recommendation Miscio was happy with was the panel’s acknowledgment of the mental health component. The doctor said Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tends to go hand in hand with mental health concerns.

“Up to 70 per cent of kids with ASD are reported to have a mental health struggle,” Miscio said. “As a lead agency, Hands is happy to see it acknowledged as something that has to be addressed.”

The last recommendation Miscio highlighted was the focus on technology to provide services. She said Hands has historically used technology to help families.

According to the doctor, Hands was already ahead of the curve when it came to the provincial recommendations. She said the organization already completed consultations with families and their needs, so they were already modifying services.

“Families will start to experience some of that immediate impact now that we know we are in line with the recommendations,” Miscio said. “What will happen over the next little while is there will be an implementation panel put together to operationalize the plans. It could take a little bit of time, but services will slowly trickle down”

The doctor understood the process has been a rollercoaster ride for parents of autistic children. The Ontario Government first announce changes to the autism program in February which were met with uproar from the public.

The idea was to move from an individual needs-based system to a program where every child gets the same monetary support, regardless of where they are on the spectrum.

Miscio said it a good thing the government is going back on that idea and families should see this as an opportunity.

“There are a lot of times where change is made and voices aren’t heard,” Miscio said. “I think voices were heard. There was recognition that their children and youth need a needs-based system. They need a system that will allow them to get the services  that their individual child needs when they need them”

The doctor added that Hands will always remain dedicated to providing services to families. She urged anyone with youth mental health questions to contact the organization through its website or in person at their various locations.

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