Recommendation #1: An investment in the training & recruitment of service providers for kids with disabilities to eliminate the 1 to 2-yr waitlists for support services.
We recommend that the Ministry of Advanced Education invests in the training and recruitment of service providers for neurodivergent kids and kids with disabilities. This investment would eliminate the 1–2-year waitlists that exist for Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP), Occupational Therapists (OT), Physiotherapists (PT), and Behaviour Analysts (BCBA).
Last year, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) announced a transition away from Individualized Funding to new Family Connection Centres (FCCs), where children with support needs will access therapies and support services. The MCFD has stated they will be opening up services to an additional 8,300 kids but that there will be no investment in new service providers despite the chronic and growing shortage of SLPs, OTs, PTs, and BCBAs with waitlists of over one year. Instead, the new FCCs will use the service providers available in each community and move away from the standard practice of one-to-one therapy sessions to group-based, online, and satellite services. This will lead to less effective and accessible therapies and services for BC’s most vulnerable children and youth.
British Columbia has a minimal number of academic opportunities for SLPs, OTs, BCBAs, and PTs, even though they are the disability sector’s greatest resource. We should not be turning people away from these essential and rewarding careers. We need to open the academic seats for those interested and qualified. AutismBC requests an investment to double the seats in these four educational programs and provide 18 bursaries/year for students with disabilities or students from small towns and rural and remote areas who will return to their communities to practice for a minimum of four years after they graduate. These bursaries will ensure a better disbursement of inclusive service providers across the province. The new Family Connections Centres could play a role in identifying candidates for these bursaries.
Recommendation #2: To eliminate the 2+ year waitlist for children’s autism assessments through the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN) by investing in the program and human resources needed to provide these specialized assessments.
We recommend the Ministry of Health eliminate the 2+ year waitlist for children’s autism assessments through the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN) by investing in the program and human resources needed to provide these specialized assessments. This investment involves paying assessors at a market wage and matching program funding to the yearly number of children on the waitlist.
As stated above, the MCFD has announced sweeping changes to the way neurodivergent children and kids with disabilities will access therapies in BC. Despite moving to a needs-based system, diagnoses are still essential to validate a person’s identity as autistic and inform clinicians and service providers so they can develop effective approaches. Each disability, diagnosis and designation provide critical information on the individual that the needs-based assessment tools offered at the Family Connection Centres (FCCs) cannot. In the case of autism, we know that early intervention leads to developmental gains and that qualified and informed professionals must conduct this early intervention. Without a diagnosis, there is no understanding of the root cause(s) related to particular needs. In addition, without a diagnosis, an individual cannot access school-based supports that are only available with a designation. A diagnosis is required for disability benefits and employment accommodations as an adult.
The waitlist at BCAAN has been steadily growing and is now at 2+ years. The BCAAN program needs to be able to retain qualified and experienced assessors, which requires favourable salaries, benefits, and workforce conditions. We recommend a review of the market value of BCAAN professions and augmenting the compensation packages of all staff accordingly. These assessors are a tremendous resource to the disability community and province. Additionally, we request that the BCAAN budget be indexed to the waitlist for autism assessments which is currently 4000. This will ensure that BCAAN has the budget and staff to eliminate the waitlist.
Recommendation #3: We recommend developing an adult autism assessment pilot program with AutismBC.
We recommend developing an adult autism assessment program. Over the past year, we have had 600 adults reach out to AutismBC trying to access an autism assessment. With the only option being a private assessment (approx. $3,500) and few clinicians providing these assessments in BC, many adults are struggling, lost, and some are in crisis.
There is a deep existential and practical need for autistic adults to receive a diagnosis, many of whom fell through the cracks and were not assessed and supported as children. Many adults who receive a diagnosis later in life describe having an “ah-ha” moment. Suddenly, their lives make sense, and they understand why they struggle and thrive in specific ways. After getting a diagnosis, they found like-minded people inside and outside the autism community, and they started advocating for their needs and accessing resources and support.
We recommend that a one-time $500,000 pilot project is awarded to AutismBC to provide 100 (or more) assessments to low-income adults seeking an autism assessment (and potential travel bursaries). We will partner with well-known and respected clinicians with experience in providing autism assessments to adults. This program will also enable us to learn from the experiences and needs of autistic adults to better understand and support them in the future.
We hope that the BC government will prioritize investment in these three areas to help improve access to diagnosis and services. We believe that making strides in these areas will improve the lives of autistic children, youth, adults, and their families.
Read the full 2023 Consultation Report published report here: