The provincial government has launched a five-year plan to support Manitobans of all ages that are affected by autism spectrum disorders.
The new strategy, called Thrive, will eventually include 40 initiatives, everything from a technology centre to make the latest tools accessible to parents, to a post-secondary scholarship for high school graduates with autism.
Family Services and Consumer Affairs Minister Gord Mackintosh and Education Minister Nancy Allan announced funding for the first four initiatives Tuesday: about $1 million annually.
Just under $600,000 will go to applied behaviour analysis (ABA) for young children, a treatment that teaches them social, motor, and reasoning skills; $250,000 will go to outreach services in rural and northern Manitoba; $160,000 will finance consultations with experts for children who graduate from ABA treatment; and $8,000 will create a program where parents of children with autism can meet and share knowledge.
Difficulty accessing ABA is a big issue for parents at the moment because there is a long wait-list.
Letisha Recksiedler, whose five-year-old son has autism, waited six months to get him into ABA. During those six months, her son had several "temper tantrums" every day, she said. After he started ABA, the tantrums decreased to one per day, she said.
"Our lives have become less stressful now that we're in the program," Recksiedler said.
The province hopes the Thrive program will eliminate wait-lists for ABA by September.
But some of those who work with people with autism said this announcement neglects what they call the biggest hole in funding -- support services for adults with autism.
Bev Larmour, a past president of Asperger Manitoba Inc. (Asperger syndrome is on the autism spectrum), said the announcement focuses on kids.
"What about the adults who, when they graduate from high school, it's like they fall off the cliff in terms of services?" she said.
Damon Schuler, an Asperger Manitoba Inc. board member and an adult with autism who is attending college, said he doesn't get much support for his studies. "All it is is a different area to write my exam," he said.
Anne Kresta, current president of Asperger Manitoba, said as long as Thrive follows through with its long-term plan, she will be happy.
"The announcement today was very centred upon the ABA portion but we're looking more across the lifespan and we're really pleased to see that the lifespan issues are going to be addressed," she said.
Mackintosh said future Thrive initiatives will help people with autism of all ages.
"Until now, we started and ended with children," he said.
In a press release following the province's announcement, the Progressive Conservative party shrugged off Thrive and the funding for ABA as a pre-election tactic.
"The NDP government has underfunded this critical and proven form of therapy for children with autism until the eve of an election, when they finally decide to offer families an opportunity to continue therapy," said family services critic Bonnie Mitchelson.