Winnipeg families are calling on the Manitoba government to put more money into autism therapy for kids.

Advocates worry some children aren't receiving the treatment they need because of wait lists and gaps in funding.

It’s the focus of a petition started by families of children living with autism.

Four-year-old Katy Elias lives with autism, making it difficult for her to communicate. Her dad Mark Elias said Katy’s skills have improved in the past year thanks to applied behaviour analysis, or ABA therapy, she gets at the family's home.

Katy has a tutor from St. Amant. The family had to wait about a year before Katy could get into the program.

Advocate Guy Mercier with the group Manitoba Families for Effective Autism Treatment is worried the wait will only get longer. Mercier said that's because the Manitoba government hasn't increased funding for programs.

"We still have the wait lists which won't go away and now we have less services for kids that are in the program," said Mercier.

St. Amant has funding to provide services to 75 children, but as of October there were 68 kids on the waiting list and experts say, the therapy is most beneficial when it happens early in a child's life.

"All of the evidence and the literature supports strongly that early intensive intervention is critical and essential for long-term outcomes and long-term benefits," said Kerri Walters, St. Amant’s Senior Manager for Autism Programs.

Mercier started a petition lobbying the government to increase funding for ABA therapy. He said right now some families don't qualify to get the help they need.

"The school-age program is not guaranteed for anybody and there's no dedicated hours, so we feel that there's only going to be about 15 to 20 per cent of the kids that are going to get into it and get services the rest will get nothing,” said Mercier.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the province plans to roll out a new group program in January for children waiting to receive individual ABA treatment, which she said will help reduce wait times.

"It will be a preschool classroom model. We'll be able to see more children, but still in a very controlled environment, using the values and principles of ABA,” said Irvin-Ross.  “We have used that model before and it's been very successful.”

Irvin-Ross said the province spends $37 million each year on support for children living with autism, $8 million goes directly to ABA programs.

The petition started by Manitoba Families for Effective Treatment will be read in the Manitoba Legislature Thursday during Question Period.