TORONTO -- Canadian actor Eugene Levy and Brenda Deskin, the mother of a 24-year-old with autism, are urging Ontario’s Conservative government to reverse the cost cuts made to therapy and education programs for young adults living with autism in the province.
Deskin and a group of families are taking Queen’s Park to court, suing the current government for slashing autism funding. This particular battle is all too familiar for Deskin – who 15 years ago was part of a group that successfully sued the province’s then-Liberal government for its age-based cut-off, at six years old, from autism support.
“We were assured by way of a court order that the government would continue this funding for our children,” Deskin told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “All of a sudden, that disappeared and so did life as our children know it. They are at risk now.”
Michael, Deskin’s son, lives with severe autism and needs 24-hour-a-day, two-on-one supervision.
“My son is extremely self-injurious. They’ve left us with no transition and it’s beyond anything I could have imagined,” she said.
Levy, who is an autism activist and Deskin’s cousin, said that without financial support for autism programs and treatments, the lives of these families have “turned into a living hell.”
“I don’t understand why the funding has been taken away because when a child with autism turns 18, they need much more help,” Levy said.
Before the Deskin family got a six-month notice about Michael’s funding being cut off in February, he was receiving 40 hours a week of services and support.
His Ancaster, Ont., mother said they’re now “squeaking by with what little my husband and I can provide on our own.”
Deskin has set up a website, FORDvsAUTISM, where people can call or send a template letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Todd Smith, the minister of children, community and social services. She’s urging the public to reach out to the officials in support of the families.
In February, Lisa MacLeod, who was minister of children, community and social services at the time, announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program in an attempt to clear a waiting list of 23,000 children. Families with children under six years old receive $20,000 per year now. When their child turns six, they receive $5,000 per year until they are 18.
“The autism fund is only applicable to kids who are under the age of 18. As if when they turn 18, they just outgrow their autism,” said Levy. “We just expect more humanity in the behavior of officials that Canadian elect to higher office.”
Deskin and Levy are also urging the federal parties to invest in autism treatment. So far, the Conservatives and the NDP said they’ll invest millions in developing a national autism strategy while the Green party said they would establish community treatment programs for autism.