TORONTO – An Ontario mother who has been protesting over the past week to get help with her son’s autism care will finally see her file after a call from the minister of social services.
Stacey Kennedy picks up outside Premier Doug Ford’s office in an effort to get better access to autism funding and services for her 10-year-old son, Sam.
Kennedy told Granthshala National News that he decided to protest with the hope of starting a dialogue with the provincial government about how desperate the families of children with autism are to get help.
Kennedy said, “We have listened to this government and Doug Ford, we have listened to most governments that you really care about us and I am here to say that this is not happening and it is unacceptable.”
After seven days of sitting in an office parking lot and sleeping in his van, Ford finally responded to Kennedy’s protest, but took a question from Granthshala News at a press conference to do so.
“Stacey, I’ll make sure we reach you [and] Have a good conversation,” Ford said on Wednesday.
Kennedy said Ford called her later on Wednesday and agreed to have an in-person conversation about issues with the government’s new autism program.
“There were a lot of sound bites, a lot to stay on point,” Kennedy said of the call.
Kennedy said Ford’s office would schedule an appointment for him at a later date.
In addition, Merrill Fullerton, the Minister of Children, Communities and Social Services, who is in charge of the autism file, called Kennedy Thursday.
Kennedy said the minister was sympathetic and agreed to look at his file. She explained that Sam has been on a waiting list for four years to gain full access to the province’s autism programs.
While such obstacles are frustrating, Kennedy says that parents of children with autism have “no choice” but to try to navigate them.
Kennedy said, “These are the obstacles that have been thrown at us. I want the average Canadian to understand how terrible they are — that I literally had to sit in my van to see someone move things.”
“It’s brutal, it’s cruel, it’s callous, it’s a scandal.”
Angela Brandt, chair of the Ontario Autism Coalition, said Kennedy’s concerns speak for the entire autism community.
Brandt told Granthshala News, “It’s so sad that he had to go to such lengths to be heard, just to be heard.”
Ontario’s new autism program has been widely criticized and has been rolled out slowly. Advocates estimate that 40,000 families are waiting to receive full funding and access to medical services.
Most families are currently offered a $5,000 lump-sum fund, but experts say that isn’t much help for those paying $40,000 to $80,000 a year for services.
“This $5,000 payment … it’s an interim payment, it’s not access to Medicare, so they’re still on the waiting list because they’re not accessing Medicare,” Brandt said.
“The Ontario Autism Program is a treatment program. It is not a subsidy program, so if they are not accessing treatment, they are on a waiting list.”
After speaking with the prime minister and minister, Kennedy ended his picket on Thursday. However, she accepts that the fight is not over.
If the provincial government doesn’t make good on its word, Kennedy said she would protest in front of the premier’s office.
“I don’t want to talk more, I want to see more action, not only for my son, but for everyone,” she said.