'It's very discouraging': Promise to boost spending for autistic kids delayed

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'It's very discouraging': Promise to boost spending for autistic kids delayed

'It's very discouraging': Promise to boost spending for autistic kids delayed

The government will not keep an election promise for children with autism — at least, not this year.

During last spring's election campaign, the Saskatchewan Party pledged to boost money for kids with autism.

The money would be individualized — so parents could choose the services their child most needed.

It would have provided $4,000 per child under the age of six beginning this year, doubling to $8,000 per child by 2020.

But Health Minister Jim Reiter says the government can't afford to start the program this year.

"We didn't take that lightly," Reiter told reporters. "Obviously we intend to still move forward with it, just not as quickly as we would have hoped."

Opposition health critic Danielle Chartier accused the government of having misplaced priorities. 

"They're making kids wait — kids who are living with autism spectrum disorder wait — all the while giving, say, corporations a tax cut who didn't even ask for a tax cut," Chartier said.

"So this is the priority of this government."

The government says it will boost spending for kids with autism next year.

It says the individualized program will cost $2.8 million in its first year and would rise as the amount per child went up in future years.

'It's very discouraging'

"It's very discouraging, considering $4,000 is only a small drop in the bucket of what they need to pay, but at least it was a step in the right direction," said Sheri Radoux, who is the mother of three children diagnosed with autism.

Radoux has been fighting for individualized funding for years, arguing that it's critical for children to get the help they need.

"I know parents whose children are on feeding tubes ... for example, and Saskatoon Health Region has no way to treat them.

"These parents could take that money and hire a feeding specialist, which is ironic because to get their special food made costs the government $2,000 a month, but they can't get the money for therapy."

Radoux is hopeful she'll see more funding next year, but said it's still time wasted. 

"The longer you delay treatment, the more expensive it's going to be down the road," Radoux said.

In other words, spending more later for things like special education and residential care, she said.