Local parents of children with autism are not happy with the Ontario government.

On March 30, about 15 people braved snow and rain to protest provincial cuts to autism support programs outside Glengarry-Prescott and Russell MPP Amanda Simard’s office on McGill Street in Hawkesbury.

Under the new program which took effect on April 1, parents will receive up to $20,000 each year for treatment of children under six, and parents with children aged six and over will receive $5,000 annually.

The plan is part of an effort to eliminate a waiting list for treatment that had 23,000 names on it and eliminate income testing for support eligibility.

The government also believes the changes will make a greater variety of services available to parents.

However, the parents who protested in Hawkesbury said the new program will mean less support.

Paul and Nicole Taylor’s son Paul Jr. is eight years old, has autism, and does not communicate verbally.

The changes in funding would mean a significant decrease in the support the Taylors need to obtain the therapy their son needs.

Paul Taylor said Premier Doug Ford’s government is taking “shotgun approaches” to policymaking.

He speculated that the government is purposely making bad decisions in order to provoke opposition.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” Taylor said about waiting for what will happen next regarding the help his son needs.

He wants local parents of children on the autism spectrum to work closely together. He said that francophone and anglophone parents both want the same things—just in different languages.

Simard, who is currently an independent member of the legislature after leaving the governing PC caucus in disagreement with cuts to French-language programs, attended the small demonstration and offered her support for the parents.

“It needs to be needs-based,” she said, meaning that the funding should be based on the type of therapy a child needs.

Simard said the autism changes further confirm she made the right decision to leave the PC caucus.

Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod has said there will be further consultation on autism support, but Simard was skeptical that it was happening.

The Taylors travelled from Hawkesbury to Toronto on Friday, March 29 to meet with MacLeod, but they said she cancelled the afternoon appointment after they got there.

On Sunday, March 31, the Taylors took part in a 20-kilometre walk from MacLeod’s constituency office in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven to Parliament Hill where they demonstrated calling for a national autism strategy.

According to his website, Senator Jim Munson has repeatedly called for such a strategy.

On Tuesday, students at École élémentaire catholique St-Victor in Alfred held a symbolic march and flag raising in support of autism awareness.

Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard, middle, speaking with parent Nicole Taylor at the demonstration by parents of children with autism in Hawkesbury. Photo: James Morgan