In Canada, despite progressive programs, wait times continue to grow

waitingtimeIn Canada, health and education are in provincial jurisdiction and The Province of Quebec has long been known to be a leader in social policies and health care in the country.  Canada as a whole has a history of favourable and universal coverage and is often held up as an example for other countries.

However, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, significant numbers of young children remain on waiting lists for ASD related services. Because it is a provincial jurisdiction, times vary a great deal across the country. A recent report by Global National estimates that the waiting list in Quebec is 2 years while in the Province of Alberta the time can be two weeks.  Demand for services is growing quickly and many in the country are calling the situation a crisis.

Experts all agree early intervention is critical for those on the autistic spectrum, but developmental therapy is expensive. It is estimated that depending where you are in the country, private care averages at $40,000 a year for younger children and as much as $150,000 by the time a child with autism reaches adulthood. Most families simply do not have the resources to consider private care as a feasible alternative  and have few alternatives.

Autism Daily Newscast recently reported on one mother in the Province of Ontario who, at her wits end, made a public statement by leaving her son on the doorsteps of the authorities. Despite national coverage, Philippe Telford, age 20, has not been put into a permanent care facility. Amanda Telford does not blame the front line workers but puts responsibility back on “those that hold the purse strings”.  Another mother, Brigitte Forget, moved from Ontario to the Province of Alberta to get treatment for her autistic son.

Margaret Clarke is a leading authority on autism and pediatrician specializing in developmental disabilities. In April of this year, she and colleagues David Nicholas and Herb Emery at the University of Calgary, published in a Policy magazine an article which reviews Harper government’s 2013 budget. In it they state:

“Based on a 2006 US study by M.L. Ganz, the net present value at birth of the incremental costs of supporting the ASD population over its neurotypical peers in Canada can be estimated to be $3.4 billion for each annual birth cohort.”

For a decade, inspired by the American approach towards integration, Quebec has initiated strategies to help integrate children into the mainstream educational system. From the age of two and a half-three years there are various programs, provided at home or kindergarten, to help autistic children develop language and facilitate social skills. However, not all services are covered by government programs and those that are covered are under resourced.

Gary Whittaker is chairman of the West Montreal Readaptation Centre and chairman of its main foundation. Writing in the Montreal Gazette, Whittaker states:

“Where I work at the West Montreal Readaptation Centre in Lachine, we have 518 people, mainly children, on our waiting list for ASD -related services. This includes 175 children between the ages of 0 and 6 years, those for whom early intervention can make the deepest impact.

“There’s no way around it — proper care for these children costs money. The annual cost per client at our facility is about $22,500 (other centres have higher costs; the Montreal average is almost $30,000). These services are expensive. But as the auditor-general’s office has observed, the long-term costs of non-treatment far outweigh the costs of early intervention.”

Despite public policy, a lack of funding means that a significant number of Canadian children with autism are deprived the critical early intervention services they need.