About the consultation

In May 2019 we sent out an online survey and held seven telephone town halls to get public feedback on services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To support this work, we formed an Ontario Autism Program (OAP) Advisory Panel made up of:

  • parents with lived experience
  • clinicians
  • autism advocates
  • autistic adults
  • educators
  • experts from a range of disciplines such as psychology, behavioural analysis, rehabilitation services, developmental pediatrics and research

Learn about the advisory panel’s mandate.

The panel is reviewing and analyzing the results of the online survey, telephone town halls and written submissions. The panel is using this feedback, along with relevant evidence, science and data, to provide input and advice for a new, needs-based and sustainable Ontario Autism Program that will help as many children as possible. We plan to begin implementing the new program in April 2020.

Learn about the members of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel.

Update from the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel Co-Chairs

We believe all Ontarians stand with the families of children and youth on the autism spectrum and their right to receive the highest quality care and treatment.

In spring 2019, the Ontario government engaged in a province-wide public consultation process and appointed a new 20-member Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel. This Panel, which we co-chaired, was comprised of parents with lived experience, autistic adults and experts from a range of disciplines like psychology, behaviour analysis, rehabilitation services, education, developmental pediatrics and research. We met for 17-full days over the summer months.

Our panel was tasked with providing recommendations to the government on the design of a needs-based, sustainable Ontario Autism Program that serves as many children as possible within the increased $600-million funding envelope.

There has been a tremendous amount of work completed by the panel to date. Our meeting summaries only scratch the surface when it comes to the depth and length of our conversations and deliberations over the past several months. Thank you to the Autism Spectrum Disorder community, including Northern Ontario providers, Indigenous partners and political representatives, families and other experts for submitting reports and recommendations for the consideration of the panel. Countless hours were spent reviewing and discussing your material, and our recommendations will reflect this.

While our regularly scheduled panel meetings have concluded, we wanted to take this opportunity to update the community on our work. Our panel is in the drafting phase of our final report. While our work is taking slightly longer than expected, it is imperative that we, as a panel, take the time we need to make informed recommendations to the Minister for a sustainable program that meets the needs of children and youth on the autism spectrum and their families.

We are working tirelessly to finalize our set of recommendations by the end of this month, so the report may be presented to the Minister by early November at the very latest. This will allow for the government to consider our recommendations while moving forward with the re-design and implementation of the new needs-based, sustainable Ontario Autism Program.

It has been our honour and our privilege to lead the work of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel. We applaud the government for inviting members of the ASD community to not only sit at the table but be avid participants in the redesign.

We look forward to submitting our recommendations for a needs-based, sustainable Ontario Autism Program that supports as many children and families as possible.

Your Co-Chairs,

Margaret Spoelstra & Marie Bountrogianni

Advisory panel mandate and report

Mandate

The advisory panel is reviewing and analyzing the results from our provincial consultations, including the online survey, telephone town halls and written submissions as well as relevant evidence, science and data.

The panel will provide input and advice on developing consistent approaches to:

  • describe children’s abilities and needs in areas such as communication, thinking, social skills, mental processes and self-regulation based on best practice and evidence
  • address children’s needs in a transparent manner without going over the program’s $600 million budget
  • determine the needs of children and youth to define the roles, responsibilities and qualifications of clinicians and others conducting needs assessments
  • implement actions to improve support for children and youth with autism

The panel will also provide advice on the best ways to coordinate services for children with autism across education, child development and health sectors.

Report

In October 2019, the advisory panel co-chairs will submit a summary of the panel’s input and advice to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. The report will deliver advice on the design of a needs-based program that:

  • is sustainable within an annual budget of $600 million
  • serves as many children and families as possible
  • is coordinated with education, child development and health sectors

Advisory panel meeting summaries

June 20 & 21, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the first two in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • The Advisory Panel Co-Chairs welcomed and thanked members for their participation.
  • Panel members introduced themselves and briefly touched on the perspectives that they bring to the Panel.
  • Members shared their individual goals, aspirations and measures of success for the work of the Panel.
  • Staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services provided an overview of the orientation information distributed to members.
  • Panel members reviewed the Terms of Reference of the Panel and discussed their mandate and scope. Consideration and integration with health and education sectors was highlighted as a key concern and necessary focus of the Panel’s work.
  • The Panel reviewed the importance and expectations for confidentiality, discussed communications expectations including a process for sharing updates about the panel’s work with members’ organizations or stakeholders on a regular basis.
  • The Honourable Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, and Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues joined the first meeting, to thank members for their commitment to this work.
  • Deputy Minister Janet Menard attended part of the second meeting. She thanked the panel members for their participation, recognized the complexity of their work, and noted her interest and enthusiasm for the work ahead.
  • Over the two days, members were provided with preliminary results of consultation data which generated a robust discussion and follow-up requests for additional data. Background information on how other jurisdictions define need was shared with members.
  • Members brought their personal experiences and perspectives to an in-depth discussion on two key questions:
    • How do you define need?
    • What factors need to be considered when determining a child’s needs?
  • Members collectively took a goal-oriented and strengths-based approach to discussing need, moving away from a focus on deficits alone.
  • Members recognized that the work ahead will be complex and challenging, but acknowledged the positivity, passion and dedication of all members to the process.
  • The panel was supported by staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services with representation from the ministries of Education and Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

July 4 & 5, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the third and fourth in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • The Honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, the Honourable Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and the Honourable Mike Lake, Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Wetaskiwin joined the meeting briefly to greet members and thank them for their dedication to this important work.
  • Members reviewed the work plan including key design parameters and questions.
  • Members worked in small groups to revisit and validate their definition of need informed by consultation data and stakeholder submissions.
  • On the second day, staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services shared foundational data regarding current and projected demand for the Ontario Autism Program.
  • Members again participated in a moderated small group exercise to test their definition of need to several case examples.

July 11, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the fifth in-person meeting of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • The Honourable Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services joined the meeting to discuss the panel’s mandate and scope of work.
  • The Minister asked the panel to provide advice on a new needs-based and sustainable Ontario Autism Program with the goal of helping as many children as possible.
  • Members noted the importance of aligning and coordinating the OAP with education and health systems to facilitate a child centered approach.
  • Members discussed their priorities for the program design work and associated critical path to accommodate the revised scope.
  • MCCSS reviewed survey results and data regarding the services and supports that families have received and/or would like to access.
  • Staff from the Child and Parent Resource Institute reviewed research and data on the range of needs of children and youth with ASD.

July 24 & 25, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the sixth and seventh in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Members revisited the measures of success they identified at their first meeting and revised, as required to use as a guide for their expanded mandate.
  • Members worked in small groups to discuss the consultation data and stakeholder submissions related to challenges in the current program. Members then identified key design priorities to address the challenges.
  • Members reviewed consultation data and jurisdictional information on the range of services and supports desired by families or currently offered. Using their shared definition of need, members began to discuss the considerations related to the range of services and supports offered through the OAP.

August 8 & 9, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the eighth and ninth in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Members discussed and considered options for the eligible services and supports available through the program.
  • Members reviewed and discussed information from other jurisdictions regarding different approaches to determining need.
  • Working in small groups members began to discuss considerations related to how varying needs might be determined in the program.

August 13, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the tenth in-person meeting of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Staff from the Ministry of Education presented information on the services and supports available for students with ASD.
  • In small groups, members continued their discussion on how varying needs might be determined in the program using client scenarios.

August 21 & 22, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the eleventh and twelfth in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Members continued discussing services and supports that may be eligible through the new program and confirmed areas of consensus.
  • Staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services shared several examples of needs-based funding approaches and members considered the pros and cons of those approaches.
  • Members reviewed and discussed possible recommendations for the OAP from Indigenous stakeholders, Northern, rural and remote communities, and immigrant and ESL communities.
  • Representatives from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care presented on existing mental health services for people on the autism spectrum and opportunities for integration.

August 27, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the thirteenth in-person meeting of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Members discussed mental health services for individuals on the autism spectrum. Members considered the role of mental health services in the OAP.
  • At the request of the panel, staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) presented draft program options, based on previous feedback from the Panel, to conceptualize key program design considerations and stimulate discussion.
  • Members had an in-depth discussion on program design components and discussed the benefits and risks of potential options.
  • Members agreed to continue meeting until mid-September in order to complete their work.

September 5, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the 14th in-person meeting of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • The Honourable Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health attended the meeting to thank members for their commitment to this work and welcomed input regarding mental health services for individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • Members continued their discussion on program design components from the previous meeting and discussed the benefits and risks of potential options.
  • It was confirmed by MCCSS that the final report submitted by the Panel will be released on the ministry’s website following the Minister’s review.

The next Advisory Panel meetings will take place on September 13 and 14, 2019.

September 13 and 14, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the 15th and 16th in-person meetings of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services shared costing options and estimates for the program that reflect recent program design discussions with the panel. 
  • Members discussed the benefits and risks of potential options, including impact on the waitlist in the context of supporting program sustainability and serving as many children and youth as possible.

The next Advisory Panel meeting will take place on September 17, 2019.

September 17, 2019

The following is an overview of the discussions held during the 17th in-person meeting of the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel:

  • Staff from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services shared revised costing options and waitlist estimates that incorporated feedback from members in the previous meeting.
  • Members confirmed recommendations for potential program options and identified areas of consensus and dissent.
  • Members discussed a proposed structure for their final report and confirmed next steps to review an initial draft.

Members of the Ontario Autism Program advisory panel

Co-Chairs

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni (co-chair) is the former dean of the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University and former Chief Psychologist of the Hamilton District School Board.

Margaret Spoelstra (co-chair) has been the executive director of Autism Ontario — the province's leading source of information on autism — since 2001. Prior to joining Autism Ontario, Marg worked in clinical and resources services for the Geneva Centre for Autism. She has worked for almost four decades with individuals with a variety of learning needs, particularly individuals with autism. Marg was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011.

Panel Members

Christie Brenchley is executive director of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT). In her role over the past 25 years, Christie has worked with government and other stakeholders on issues that cross the healthcare continuum, the broad determinants of health and a variety of ministries with a solutions-focused approach to assure access to services of occupational therapists for Ontarians who need them. Herself an occupational therapist, Christie has worked with children, youth and adults with special needs.

Jeanne-Marie “Gina” Brennan is a self-employed Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapist since 2011. She works under the ongoing supervision of a BCBA and a clinical psychologist as she transitions to a senior therapist role. Gina recently fulfilled the requirements for completion of the Masters program in Applied Disability Studies (ABA emphasis) at Brock University and is studying to take the board certification exam for behavioural analysts.

Dr. Jessica Brian is a psychologist and clinician-investigator at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Paediatrics.

Dr. Robert Cushman is currently the Acting Medical Officer of Health in Renfrew County. He has previously served as the director general of the Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate, in the Health Products and Food Branch at Health Canada and has served as CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network. Dr. Cushman has also been the medical officer of health for the City of Ottawa and has worked as a primary care physician in a variety of health care settings, including the emergency room of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Matthew Jason Dever is an autistic adult with three children on the autism spectrum. He advocates for inclusion and acceptance of autistic individuals and for autistic people to have their own voice. Matthew is an active member of Autistics for Autistics (A4A), Ontario's autistic self-advocacy group. A4A is a collective of approximately 300 autistic adults advocating for reform to Ontario's approach to autism funding and services.

Alex Echakowitz is an autistic social service work student who specializes in disability justice and youth mental health. They are a member of CAMH's Youth Advisory Group, as well as a volunteer with the York Federation of Students Access Centre. They are also a co-founder and former board member of Ontario's first province-wide self-advocacy organization, Autistics for Autistics (A4A).

Cindy Harrison is a speech language pathologist and the parent of a young adult with autism. Cindy is senior faculty at Profectum, an international multidisciplinary facility that teaches and trains professionals to assess and intervene with children, youth and adults on the autism spectrum. She is also the co-founder and CEO of CommuniCare Therapy and ACT Learning Centre, both in Ottawa. Cindy holds a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology and she has been working in the field of autism for more than 21 years.

Anne Huot is the vice-president of Child Development and Community Services at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). A professionally trained social worker, Anne’s portfolio includes autism, development and rehabilitation services, mental health, patient experience and complex care. She was the executive director of the Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre when it amalgamated with CHEO in 2016 and led the integration of programs and services for children and youth.

Sheri Ketchabaw has a Bachelor of Science in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Guelph and a Business Accounting diploma from Mohawk College. She is also a parent of two children on the autism spectrum.

Laura Kirby-McIntosh is president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and is also a teacher for the Peel District School Board. She is a parent of two teenagers on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Julie Koudys is a clinical psychologist and a board-certified behaviour analyst at the doctoral level. She is an assistant professor at Brock University in the Department of Applied Disability Studies where she teaches Applied Behaviour Analysis. She conducts research with children and youth with autism related to long-term outcomes following intensive behavioural intervention, the use of augmentative and alternative communications systems, and intensive parent training. She has provided clinical supervision in ABA and IBI for nearly 20 years. She is an active member of the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) and is the current chair of the Ethics and Jurisprudence Committee and the Ontario Scientific Expert Committee for the Treatment of ASD.

Marie Lemaire is a member of Autism Ontario's French Services Committee. She has a child on the autism spectrum.

Christine Levesque is co-chair of Autism Advocacy Ontario. She is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Janet McLaughlin is an associate professor of Health Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and is co-founder and co-director of the Laurier Autism Research Consortium (LARC). She recently led a major study of autism policy and family well-being in Ontario. She is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Anne O'Brien is Director of Education at the Durham Catholic School Board. Anne is also the past president of the Canadian Association of School System Administrators. She has been a Superintendent of Special Education and taught special education additional qualifications to teachers for many years.

Wendy Prieur is an executive director of North Bay Recovery Home and represents the Mental Health and Addiction sector. She was in municipal politics for 13 years, six of which were as the mayor of the Township of Nipissing. Prieur has a Bachelor of Social Work from Laurentian University.

Sherri Taylor is a parent of four children who are neurodiverse. She has an extensive history of working with individuals with diversabilities in various settings such as the York Region District School Board as an educational assistant and behaviour itinerant, Community Living and Christian Horizons. Currently she works as the family care coordinator at Back to Life Rehabilitation and Sensory Integration Facility with many neurodiverse children and their caregivers. Sherri is proud to be the Director of Education on the board of Autism Advocacy Ontario as well as a board member of the Ontario Disability Coalition fighting for all individuals regardless of age and diagnosis.

Dr. Mohammad Zubairi is a developmental pediatrician at Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre at McMaster University. He is a member of the McMaster Autism Research Team. He is on the steering committee for the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA) network and on the board of directors for the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre. He is a section executive with the Canadian Pediatric Society.