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Canada is often touted as an excellent example of how universal healthcare works to provide support for a country’s residents. However, just because there is universal healthcare does not mean that everything is covered and it certainly does not mean that finding the right resources is easy. It can take time and research to find the right people and programs to help.
One example is of those who have a family member with autism. These families are often in the top percentiles of those who have ongoing needs and yet, learning how to navigate the system and achieve assistance can be incredibly challenging. While nationally, healthcare is universal, each province and territory across Canada has its own healthcare program which means the options available for families facing autism vary depending upon where that family lives.
Here is a brief synopsis of the resources available through provincial and territorial programs. By no means is this list exhaustive! Aside from the regional government-supported programs, there are often private programs offered through not-for-profit agencies dedicated to supporting families facing autism. Finding the right programs and resources will take effort and hopefully, this list provides a place to start.
Funds of up to $22,000 are available each year for children up to age six, children aged six to 18 are allocated up to $6,000 each year and school districts have access to up to $20,200 per each student though the funds are spent on inclusive supports rather than on the student individually.
Funds can be used in a variety of ways that must be pre-approved before families spending the money. Families need to review the Autism Funding guidelines from the province to see what is eligible for funding before making decisions about supports and services. Service providers are paid directly if the services are pre-approved and a Request to Pay form is submitted each year that correlates with the service provider’s billing to the province’s Autism Funding program.
Unlike BC, where there are basic levels of support based on a child’s age, each case is assessed individually in Alberta. Services and treatment provided through the province’s Family Supports for Children with Disabilities Program are funded and the amount of funds allocated depend upon the child’s individual needs.
Only children under the age of six are eligible for provincial funding in Saskatchewan. This allows for $8,000 annually for each child with a diagnosis. There are other support programs available in Saskatchewan that do not involve direct funding, but they are offered through regional health authorities.
Autism intervention methods, autism specialists and behavioural therapies are all supported through Manitoba’s Children’s Disability Service. Funding is available for children up to the age of 18 while speech, hearing, movement and social development therapy is offered to those up to age 21.
Similar to the BC programs, Ontario offers up to $20,000 per year per child under age six and up to $5,000 for those aged six to 18. Funding amounts available are based on a family’s income levels and there are caps applied. For example. Only those households earning under $55,000 can access full fund amounts.
Quebec has initiated its Autism Action Plan which provides therapy to children aged two to five. Unfortunately, the full rollout of the program hasn’t yet taken place, with expectations for it to get going in 2022. This will expand services, so until then, opportunities may be limited and a challenge to access.
Families of preschool children with autism have access to New Brunswick’s Services for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The provides up to 20 hours a week of early intensive behavioural intervention valued at up to $33,000 per child, per year. In addition to this preschool-aged program, there is the Family Support for Children with Disabilities that assists families of children up to age 18.
Similar to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia offers early intensive behavioural intervention treatment for preschool-aged children. The program offers up to 15 hours per week of therapy for six months and this volume of support is gradually reduced over the subsequent six months. Qualifying families with children under age 19 can also access the Direct Family Support Program which provides up to $2,200 a month for respite services.
Families with preschool-aged children can enroll in the Early Years Autism Service which helps fund for an Autism Assistant wages and benefits for up to 25 hours a week. School-aged children up to their graduation are eligible for up to $6,600 in tutor or aid services each year if they require the support of an adult for tutoring outside of regular school hours or community-based activities.
The Intensive Applied Behavioural Analysis Program includes autism therapy for children of preschool age up to grade three. Preschool-aged children receive up to 30 hours per week of support, while those in grades one to three have access to 15 hours a week. Children up to age 18 are expected to be included as the program expands in 2021 and 2022.
Services to Children with Disabilities provides funding to families of children up to age 19 for services like therapeutic interventions, respite services, child care, medical travel and assessments.
Children under age six have access to therapeutic intervention while those over age six have aids and services in school. In all cases, diagnosis is the first step and this alone can be a frustrating part of the journey with long wait-lists for various analysis methods in the individual provinces and territories. Many not-for-profit organizations provide support to help families navigate the road ahead. This comes in the form of support groups and individual relationships as well as guidance and instruction on the steps to take to make it through the system.
Families need to treat funding a little bit like a separate form of household budgeting or like managing the finances for a business. Creating spreadsheets and tools to keep track of expenditures and inflows of funds specific to the autistic child will make things a lot easier. The Province of BC actually has a tool that allows for fund and service provider management called My Family Services.
All provinces and territories in Canada have autism-specific support programs except Nunavut, which does provide funding through its family services programs. Reaching out to access financial support can make a world of difference when there is a child with autism in the family. Those with autism deserve additional support and care that can be funded by their regional government.