Our Experience with the “Connections for Students” Program
In January of 2016, we began the “Connections for Students” program, a 12 month-long transition from IBI therapy into full-time school.
I found that the Connections process was vital and extremely supportive. I never had to fight for an IEP or beg for EA support. The Connections program seemed to make both schools take his needs VERY seriously. Currently, it feels like we are on auto-pilot, naturally flowing from year to year with minor tweaks and adjustments to the IEP as needed. I absolutely believe that IBI Therapy and a transition to school via Connections gave my son the foundation he needed for school success.
At our IBI discharge meeting in early 2016, I was dismayed to learn that my son had only completed the first 3 levels of the IBI school readiness goals. At the time, all children were being pushed out of IBI due to the then Liberal Provincial Government’s age cut off set at 5. As we were already transitioning to school and had the support of Connections in place, I didn’t fight the discharge (but I did fight the government on behalf of Ontario’s children).
In the end, because of Connections, my son has continued to achieve the goals of levels 4 & 5 (we built them into his IEP). Instead of completing these goals at IBI therapy, he completed them in a more natural learning environment alongside his neurotypical peers at school. He is reading at Grade level, excelling at math. He has friends he looks forward to playing with at recess. He hops on the bus happily each morning, is surrounded by love and support at his school, and happily comes home each day to put on his Mario onesie and play Super Mario games.
Changes to the Ontario Autism Plan
Currently, in Ontario, families with children receiving government-funded IBI therapy have been told that their funding is ending abruptly as of April 1st. Some will lose their therapy as soon as the end of March, others have been able to extend their existing contracts by another month or two. These children will be leaving therapy centers and heading to school full-time without the benefit of a carefully planned and supported transition.
As schools have already allocated EA supports for the school year (and there is a hiring freeze), children will be coming to schools that are simply not ready to provide them the support they need for success. Children coming to school without the necessary therapy or school resources face potential trauma and exclusion from school.
My son counts as a child on the Ontario Autism Plan’s waitlist. When the previous government reversed their terrible decision to cut off therapy to children over 5, my son’s name went back on the list. He had neared the top of the list last August for an evaluation to see what level of support he needed (if any). Thanks to a secret freeze, his name was never called before the new Ontario Autism Plan was announced.
Under the new plan, some time in the next 19 months, his name will come up and we will receive funding based on his age and our low-income level. Meanwhile, children who’ve never received intensive levels of therapy won’t receive enough funding to cover the actual costs of the therapy they need. The school readiness skills my son learned will be inaccessible as the cost of intensive therapy will be affordable only to the extremely wealthy. The new plan is not based on the actual needs of the child at all, instead it uses age and income to determine how much (if any) financial support the Ontario government will provide.
In a worrying move, the Connections for Students program information has been removed from the Ministry of Education website. From Autism Ontario’s website, you can still read about the Connections for Students program here: bit.ly/2TI9iof
It is my sincerest hope that the government pause and reconsider its new Ontario Autism Plan. Ontario must have a needs based system of funding that takes the child’s actual therapy needs into account. As the April 1st deadline looms ever closer while the Minister of Community and Social Services vows to not back down, I must insist that at the very least, the children currently receiving therapy be given a proper and supportive transition into the school system.
Jennifer is a mother of two, living in the Waterloo Region. When not protesting outside of PC MPP Amy Fee’s office, she works as a Developmental Support Worker for adults with disabilities.