Education minister lays out plan for school boards and students with autism

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announcing autism funding in Ottawa

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announcing autism funding in Ottawa

It comes after criticism from education groups, including Ottawa's largest school board, that the PC government's changes to autism policy would overburden schools with students now getting intensive therapy outside the classroom.

"The promised funding to help with the transition of students with autism into the school setting does not extend beyond this school year".

"The four-point plan that I introduced today, as well as the additional funding for our school boards and the focus on supporting our educators, will culminate in a foundation of confidence that parents will be able to embrace when we talk about making sure students with autism are going to well cared for and will be successful in our classroom environments", Thompson said. The government said it will allocate funds based on the age of children and household income, spreading it among all families and clearing the waiting list of 23,000 children.

New teachers entering the system will also have increased training in support of students with ASD during their onboarding.

Funding to the Geneva Centre for Autism to provide online training opportunities for educators is also being doubled, to $2 million. Susan Delacourt: When did Trudeau and his Liberals lose their way?

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said school boards will get an average of $12,300 for each new student with autism entering the school system in the remaining months of this school year. Many of these children now attend school on a modified schedule, and parents have said cuts in funding will leave them with little choice but to send their children to school more frequently, even full-time.

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Under changes by the Ford government, parents will be given the power to choose what services they want - but families will face a maximum lifetime limit of $140,000 per child and high-earners will no longer be eligible.

She said "teachers can not be expected to handle every problem". The government says there are 1,105 children with autism who are not in school.

"Teachers should not be asked to replace the work therapists should be doing", she said.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, called it "a step in the right direction". Additionally, Ms. Thompson said she is asking school boards to dedicate a professional activity day for teachers on how to support children with autism.

But the change will also mean that families who now receive full financial support for intensive therapy in private or community-based settings will no longer get as much. "We're putting people first by ensuring both students and educators receive the support they need to succeed", said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics.

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