03/27/2017 17:14 EDT | Updated 03/28/2018 01:12 EDT

Ontario may extend direct funding for children's autism therapy: minister

Giving families of children with autism the option of either using government-funded services or receiving direct funding to pay for therapy may be part of Ontario's new autism program, the minister in charge of it said Monday.

The Ontario Autism Program is set to start this June and Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau said the implementation team is working on including a direct funding model.

"There was a lot of online chatter over social media on the weekend. Some people were questioning our commitment to direct funding," he said.

"I've always been very clear that it's an option that I think would work well in the province of Ontario. Obviously we're just trying to figure out the mechanics behind how that would work. But that would be my preference to move forward in that direction in June."

2 options for therapy

When the Liberal government initially announced the new program, it said it would stop funding Intensive Behavioural Intervention therapy for children over four and would give families of those kids removed from the IBI wait list $8,000 to pay for private therapy during the transition.

But the families said that would only pay for a few months of therapy, so the government later said the families would get successive payments of $10,000 for private therapy until the new program is up and running.

Coteau said Monday that funding will continue past June, until kids have a spot in the new autism program, but there could essentially be two streams in the new program.

"So you can go through the regional offices and work directly, and I hear in some places parents would prefer that, and I know in other cases parents would prefer going through a direct funding model," he said.

Autism coalition concerned about delays

A final decision will be made soon, the minister said.

"We don't have much time left," Coteau said.

Bruce McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and who is also on the new program's implementation committee, doubts it will happen as quickly as June.

"I don't think it's likely, but it could be done if the government takes the right decisions and there is political will to do things differently this year," he said. "It could happen, but the signals that we're getting right now is that it won't and that's a disappointment."