Ontario Announces Autism Advisory Panel

The Panel will make recommendations on needs-based funding model

News Release

Ontario Announces Autism Advisory Panel

May 30, 2019

Panel members will make recommendations on needs-based funding model

TORONTO — Ontario's government continues to support children and youth with autism with the creation of an expert panel on needs-based supports. On the heels of the province's autism consultations, the 20-member panel will collectively provide recommendations to Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, on the best way to incorporate consultation feedback into the Ontario Autism Program.

Ontario intends to double the current level of funding to ensure children with autism receive the appropriate supports.

"We continue to hear from families about how the Ontario Autism Program can better address the needs of children with autism," said MacLeod. "This advisory panel brings together people well-versed on autism to provide important advice and guidance."

The panel will be co-chaired by former cabinet minister Dr. Marie Bountrogianni and the executive director of Autism Ontario, Margaret Spoelstra.


Dr. Marie Bountrogianni (co-chair) is the former dean of the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. She served as the president of the Royal Ontario Museum from 2007-11, as the MPP for Hamilton Mountain from 1999-2007, and as Ontario's minister of Children and Youth Services from 2003-05, during which time she led the province's approach to autism services.

Margaret Spoelstra (co-chair) has been the executive director of Autism Ontario — the province's leading source of information on autism — since 2001. Prior to joining Autism Ontario, Spoelstra worked in clinical and resources services for the Geneva Centre for Autism. She has worked for almost four decades with individuals with a variety of learning needs, particularly individuals with autism. Spoelstra was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011.

In addition to the co-chairs, the autism advisory panel includes parents of children with autism, clinicians, autism self-advocates, service providers, former public servants and others who have knowledge of and experience with autism. Members of the panel are:

The province's 20-member autism expert panel includes parents of children with autism, clinicians, autism self-advocates, service providers, former public servants and others who are familiar with the autism file. Below are brief bios on each member.


Christie Brenchley is executive director of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT). OSOT's vision is for occupational therapy to be a vibrant profession that is well-known, respected, valued and easily accessible across the health care continuum.

Gina Brennan is a self-employed Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapist currently training to become a senior therapist. Brennan has a Masters of Applied Disability Studies from Brock University.

Dr. Jessica Brian is a psychologist and clinician-investigator at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Paediatrics.

Dr. Robert Cushman is currently the director general of the Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate, in the Health Products and Food Branch at Health Canada. He served as CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network from 2005-11. Dr. Cushman has also been the medical officer of health for the City of Ottawa and has worked as a primary care physician in a variety of health care settings, including the emergency room of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Matthew Jason Dever is an autistic adult with three children on the autism spectrum. He advocates for inclusion and acceptance of autistic individuals and for autistic people to have their own voice.

Alex Echakowitz co-founded Autistics for Autistics Ontario (A4A Ontario) in 2017. A4A is a collective of approximately 300 autistic adults advocating for reform to Ontario's approach to autism funding and services.

Cindy Harrison is president and co-owner of Communicare Therapy in Ottawa, a company that provides occupational therapy, dietetics, speech language pathology, social work and physiotherapy services.

Anne Huot is the vice-president of Child Development and Community Services at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). A professionally trained social worker, Huot's portfolio includes autism, development and rehabilitation services, mental health, patient experience and complex care. She was the executive director of the Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre when it amalgamated with CHEO in 2016 and led the integration of programs and services for children and youth.

Sheri Ketchabaw is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Laura Kirby-McIntosh is president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and is also a teacher for the Peel District School Board. She is a parent of two children on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Julie Koudys is an assistant professor and clinical coordinator at Brock University in the Department of Applied Disability Studies.

Marie Lemaire is a member of Autism Ontario's French Services Committee. She has a child on the autism spectrum.

Christine Levesque is co-chair of Autism Advocacy Ontario and a board member of the Ontario Autism Coalition. She is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Janet McLaughlin is an autism researcher and associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Anne O'Brien is director of education at the Durham Catholic School Board.

Wendy Prieur is executive director of North Bay Recovery Home, an organization that works to improve the lives of people recovering from substance abuse and dependency through residential treatment and community outreach services. She has been the mayor of the Township of Nipissing for the past five years. Prieur has a Bachelor of Social Work from Laurentian University.

Sherri Taylor is a parent of four children with special needs, including one child on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Mohammad Zubairi is a developmental pediatrician at Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre at McMaster University. His primary area of clinical work is with children and youth with autism. He is a member of the McMaster Autism Research Team and a member of the steering committee for the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA) Network. He is the vice-president of the board of directors for the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre.

The announcement follows extensive consultations with the public through telephone town halls and an online survey. The panel will discuss the feedback from those consultations and expects to offer recommendations to the minister by September 2019.

"We have made reforms to bring about a fairer system, where children aren't left to languish on waitlists for years," continued MacLeod. "I look forward to the expertise of our panel members to help ensure that our needs-based component improves outcomes for children and youth with autism."