Instructor therapist Reem Eissa's 21st birthday wish is to raise $2,500 to help fund one-on-one intensive behaviour therapy for children with autism. The therapy, which helps teach communication skills, can cost $40–$50 for each one-hour session.

For parents, high cost of autism therapy can mean stress, sacrifice

Sometimes it’s a cut to the grocery budget, or maybe skipping on buying something needed for the house.

For parents like Jennie De Medicis, making sacrifices like these to pay for their child’s therapy is their reality.

De Medicis’ six-year-old son Joseph has been diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder. He’s been denied daycare in the past because of it, she said.

“My life is my son that has autism and it’s just a difficult life”, said De Medicis, vice-president of the Imagine Autism Foundation board.

One-on-one intensive behaviour therapy (IBI) has helped Joseph to recognize numbers, identify colours and hum songs, De Medicis said, but it’s not cheap.

According to Imagine Autism Foundation founder Chaza Attar, IBI — a method in which therapists run mass trials to teach an autistic child communication skills — can cost $40–$50 for each one-hour session.

“For most kids the recommendation is anywhere in between 15 to 20 hours a week,” said Attar, who in 2009 founded Autism Therapy and Training in Woodbridge, Ont. “You can imagine $40 times 20 hours, that can be quite costly for a family.”

It has been for De Medicis.

“There are many times where I broke down and cried because I can’t do what I want to do for him,” De Medicis said.

Government funding is available to help pay for the therapy, but the process can be slow. Joseph has been on the wait list for three years, De Medicis said.

“Some kids get funding from the government, and so many of them don’t,” said Reem Eissa, an instructor therapist at Autism Therapy and Training since May 2013. “There is a huge, huge wait list for kids who are waiting to get funded for therapy, so the [Imagine Autism Foundation] is trying to help out starting our own funding program.”

To see the status of Reem Eissa’s birthday fundraising wish or to donate, click here.

On April 18, Eissa turned 21. Ten days earlier, she took to Facebook to post her birthday wish: to raise funds for one-on-one IBI therapy hours for children with autism.

So far she has raised $1,595. Her wish is to raise $2,500 by May 27.

For Eissa, her motivation is seeing kids like Joseph take even small steps forward.

“Working with children has a lot of influence,” she said. “Everything you teach them is going to impact them in some way and just knowing that is enough to keep anyone going.”