Powerful communications lessons from autism parents and organizations

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World Autism Awareness Day is upon us, and it comes at a particularly tense time in Ontario for families with children who have the neurological disorder, as well as for the service providers committed to helping them.

 After weeks of protests, changes to the Ontario autism funding program kicked in yesterday. Under the new plan, families who have children with autism under the age of six are eligible for up to $20,000 per year for treatment, while children between six and 18 will receive up to $5,000 annually.

 The Ford government tinkered with its plans in response to a backlash from families and advocates, removing the income caps and adding a six-month funding extension for children transitioning to schools. But advocates say the changes don’t go far enough, and they’re keeping up their communications blitz.

 In honour of the day, Provident is donating time and expertise to Kalyana Support Systems, an organization that provides Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy at the Gregory School for Exceptional Learning. Their staff members belong to the Ontario Association of Behaviour Analysis, and the Gregory School provides therapy to 25 children. ABA is considered the most effective evidence-based treatment for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 None of the 25 children at the Gregory School are in the under-six category, and only a couple of the families can afford to keep them in ABA for 10 or so hours a week.  All of them will be transitioning into the public school system in September. The school fears that few of the children are ready for that type of transition. Some of the kids are highly aggressive, self-injurious and pose flight risks.

One of the boys at the school is seven-year-old Connor, who’s in his third year. Connor’s parents have seen a huge transformation in their son since he started at the Gregory School. He’s learned to communicate without hurting himself and has begun using his voice. His parents fear he may be on the brink of losing the therapy that has brought so much positive change into his life.

Organizations like Kalyana and the Gregory School aren’t just doing remarkable work for autistic children, they’re doing something else remarkable from a communications perspective. Across the province, they’re continuing efforts to change the minds of policy-makers and elected officials. Their successes in doing so, both past and present, speak to the power of banding together and effectively communicating your message.

 The old adage “you can’t fight City Hall,” in fact, isn’t always true. Not only can you fight City Hall, you can illuminate and educate citizens and politicians alike by coming together to raise awareness as you work towards a common goal. It’s a valuable lesson for any of us who want to shine a light on a cause we hold dear or who work to communicate our messages to the world at large.

Their efforts have educated many of us about ASD. They’ve taught us that there are varying degrees of skills and challenges. As those familiar with the disorder say,  if you’ve met one person with autism, you have only met one person with autism.

They’ve taught us that ASD is a neurological disorder, not a disability. People with autism can learn and can thrive, but they need individualized education and treatment.

We now know that changes in Ontario could essentially cut funding for ABA services to nearly nothing, since the annual cost of intensive ABA therapy can range between $60,000 to $80,000 per child.  

And we know that one out of every 60 children are diagnosed with ASD, and boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.

April is World Autism Awareness Month and #AutismActionMonth. In the weeks ahead, in addition to saluting the efforts of parents, schools and activists to help kids with autism, let’s use the month to educate ourselves, our friends and our families about the disorder.

For more information on how to get involved, visit We are the 100 Percent.