06/27/2012 02:17 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Critics laud progress, but say Nova Scotia's autism plan neglects adults

HALIFAX - Critics say while a year-old Nova Scotia government plan aimed at providing more services for people living with autism has improved support for young children, older kids and adults continue to be left behind.

A report released by the province on Wednesday said increased funding has meant that most pre-school children are now being treated in an intensive, early intervention program providing one-on-one therapy.

In the past two years the government has doubled its annual funding for early intensive behaviour intervention from $4 million to $8 million.

Government figures show that 110 pre-schoolers are now taking part in early intensive behaviour intervention, while the program has doubled its capacity and can serve up to 160 children.

The program teaches three- and four-year-old children how to socialize and develop the communication skills needed to enter the school system.

"I'm happy that the people coming up have the resources I didn't have," said Barbara Gillis, whose 21-year-old son, Paul, is currently institutionalized with people suffering from a range of problems that don't include autism.

Gillis, a single mother from Halifax, said she's been fighting to get her son into a properly supported environment to no avail.

"What about the young adults that have already come up and didn't have these resources? There's a whole population out there with nothing."

Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia, said there is currently no transition support for young adults leaving high school and there is a "crisis level" lack of residential support for adults as they get older.

"They really need to start looking at services and supports for adults right across all government departments," said Carroll.

Health Minister David Wilson said with current budget restraints the province feels it can do more by targeting autistic children at an earlier age.

However, he conceded more has to be done to improve support programs for older children and adults living with autism.

"There's still work to be done," Wilson said. "We've got to continue to look at ways to support individuals young and old who have autism."

Wednesday's program update said the government has committed $1.3 million in new funding to develop 40 new residential spaces for people with disabilities. It has also budgeted another $1.3 million to allow 80 more families of children under the age of 19 to gain access to a family support funding program.

Another $420,000 in new funding will help about 12 eligible families support children or adult family members who live at home and have disabilities that require enhanced care.

Meanwhile, the Education Department said it had hired a provincial autism consultant.

The plan is the government's response to a 2010 report that issued 53 recommendations aimed at improving autism services.

Health officials say about 9,500 Nova Scotians have been diagnosed with autism.