Klar, Douglas and McGuire: Autism strategy masks societal exclusion of autistic Ontarians

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has announced a revamped autism program, promising to cut waitlists for behavioural therapies by limiting access to children under five.

This has ignited a storm of controversy from parents and advocates who are angered that children five and older will no longer be eligible for funded Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI).

The Liberal government grounds its new policy in clinical research that claims early intervention is the most effective way of lessening the signs of autism. They argue that it is better to invest in “treating” the youngest of children, than to continue to spread resources, leaving many to languish on waitlists while developmental “windows of opportunity” are rapidly closing.

While opposition parties join forces with upset parents to “sound the alarm,” a voice curiously absent from this heated debate is that of autistic people themselves.

As mothers, researchers, disability activists and scholars, we know first-hand how cruel our society can be for those who do not act, think, look or move in expected ways — studies show 70 per cent of autistic kids are bullied at school and there have been murders of autistic people by caregivers. We are all too familiar with narratives of autism as a tragic disorder threatening children, families and society as a whole. These narratives have harmful, material effects.

In many autistic communities, behavioural therapy is highly contested. Since the early 90s, autistic self-advocates and scholars have raised ethical concerns about behavioural therapies that use neurotypicality — that is, behaviour that’s consistent with dominant standards of “normal” — as the sole measure of human worth and success. Autistic behaviours – flapping hands, averted gaze – are important modes of communication. Interventions that seek to eliminate these behaviours risk doing great harm to the very people they claim to be helping………….



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