House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was autism.

Topics

Fisheries and Oceans
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I am tabling, in both official languages, the interim report of the commission of inquiry into the decline of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, entitled, “Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Past Declines. Future Sustainability?”.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Pursuant to order made Thursday, October 28, Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products, is deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would request that we see the clock at 1:30.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to see the clock at 1:30?

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

moved that Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, this government recognizes that autism spectrum disorders, referred to as autism or ASD, represent a serious health and social issue affecting many Canadian families and individuals from all walks of life. That is why the Minister of Health last year declared that April 2 would be known as World Autism Awareness Day across Canada.

I remember so clearly when I joined the Waterloo County School Board in 1978 when one of our superintendents mentioned the word autism. To be honest, I had not even heard the word before that time. I remember how our officials grappled to address the needs of the children and their families who were suffering with autism. Since that time, it is obvious that we have come a long way in addressing this issue but that we have a long way to go.

Today, this government is pleased to have the opportunity to reiterate this important commitment by expressing our support for Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

Bill S-211 was recently amended to clarify certain information presented in the preamble. These amendments preserve the intent of the bill while simultaneously promoting the importance of disseminating clear, consistent and accurate information about autism, an objective to which this government is committed.

The impacts of autism are wide-ranging for individuals and families affected by the condition. ASD can present lifelong challenges. For researchers, ASD is particularly complex as it affects each individual differently. A great deal of valuable research has already been done to uncover the causes of ASD, as well as the most effective treatments and long-term implications of this disorder. However, further research is required in order to gain a more solid understanding of this complicated condition.

This is why the federal government is committed to supporting an enhanced autism evidence base and has devoted substantial resources in this regard. For example, over the last several years our government has invested over $35 million for autism-related research projects through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Health have contributed to improving autism evidence and awareness. On that note, I would like to share with the House today some recent activities in the area of autism research which have been supported by the health portfolio.

Between 2007-08 and 2008-09, Health Canada invested $125,000 for CAIRN, which stands for Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, a group of researchers, clinicians, parents and policy-makers dedicated to ASD research as a way to find better treatment and diagnostic techniques.

A key aspect of CAIRN's work is its website, which disseminates up-to-date information on autism in a format and language that is useful to those who need it most: individuals and families affected by autism. I am pleased to tell the House that federal funding supported the update and translation of this trusted website, making this valuable resource available in both official languages.

This government also supported CAIRN to host the 2009 CAIRN conference, which provided an important forum for researchers, clinicians, policy-makers and those affected by ASD to come together to share new research, different points of view, challenges and stories with a view to raising awareness about autism. It was also at this conference that the preliminary and exciting findings of the Pathways in ASD study were shared.

The Pathways in ASD study is a one of kind collaborative research study that focuses on understanding how children with ASD grow and develop over time. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research is one of the funders of this exciting initiative, led by researchers from McMaster University who are working to understand the different developmental pathways that children with ASD follow and to identify predictors of good outcomes that can be used to develop new intervention programs.

To date, approximately 440 children from five different locations across Canada have been enrolled in this study, making it the largest of its kind in the world. It is significant to note that Canada has the largest of its kind of study related to autism research.

The study will examine a number of factors, including social competence, communication skills, behaviour and the ability to function independently that influence areas of development related to the child, the family and the community as a whole.

The results of this study will be a valuable resource in ensuring the best outcomes for children with ASD, both through the development of new programs and interventions, and by furthering our understanding of their needs and their strengths.

I understand that this project has been designed to fill important evidence gaps on developmental pathways of children with ASD. The Pathways in ASD project will also provide important evidence-based information for policy-makers and researchers alike.

CIHR is also supporting a $1.4 million strategic training grant in autism research, led by Dr. Eric Fombonne from McGill University, which will contribute to training the upcoming generation of autism researchers and will aim to uncover the mysteries of autism.

Building on the strategic training program in autism research that trained over 40 Ph.D. and post-doctoral students conducting autism research in various disciplines, from molecular genetics to outcome intervention studies, this latest project will expand the program.

The strategic training grant will address the pressing needs of Canadians affected by autism, as well as their families and service providers, by building research capacity in this area.

In addition, CIHR is investing in autism research at the University of Alberta, where researchers are examining the early development of autism by following infants at increased risk of the disorder because they are siblings of children who already have autism. The ultimate goal is earlier identification and treatment. Research such as this is building our understanding of ASD and our capacity to treat ASD.

Furthermore, along with Genome Canada, CIHR provides support to the autism genome project. This initiative will help to increase our understanding of the genetics of ASD which could, in the long term, lead to earlier diagnoses.

While research is an important aspect of the work being done to better understand ASD, another pillar of knowledge is in the area of surveillance.

In order to better understand the progression rates of autism in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada is establishing a national surveillance program for autism. This program will join the agency's other health surveillance activities for chronic diseases, injury, infectious diseases, and perinatal health.

In the autism surveillance program, the agency will work with health professionals, researchers, and voluntary organizations to analyze and report the trends and patterns of occurrence of autism in Canada. The resulting information will be provided to governments, health professionals, and affected families.

It is important to remember that all stakeholders in ASD want the same thing, better treatments and earlier diagnosis for those affected by ASD, so that ultimately they can all enjoy a better outcome.

To this end, our government is working with partners and stakeholders to promote autism awareness and is investing in activities which support a stronger evidence base. The more we share, the more we gain. By translating discoveries and knowledge into new, effective, evidence-based therapies, we can provide true hope for Canadians living with autism and their families.

I want to point out some of the partners that are working together to give evidence of how this sharing is working. They include the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, Pathways in ASD, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, McMaster University, McGill University, University of Alberta, and Genome Canada, among others.

As we continue to invest in better knowledge of this condition, the Government of Canada remains committed to ensuring that this knowledge is passed on to Canadians because enhanced awareness promotes understanding, acceptance, collaboration, and progress. Research and awareness go hand in hand. In declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day and supporting Bill S-211, this government has further contributed to this important objective.

I urge all members of the House to give their enthusiastic support to this bill, which gives one more glimmer of hope to those families dealing with the challenges of autism.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on a very well-crafted and delivered speech. I think that all members of this House will join in supporting this laudable piece of legislation.

The member spent a lot of time talking about the government's support for research and increasing the knowledge base around autism, which I think is a very laudable goal and I congratulate the government for that. However, there is a deep deficit in this country in terms of actual support on the ground for families with autism, particularly for families with young children, as they seek to get support particularly with new forms of therapy. We know that therapy for autistic children is particularly critical in the first five years of the child's life.

Would the government be prepared to put some money toward assisting families in obtaining the therapeutic support that they need to help children with autism?

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, every member in the House probably has a family member or a close friend who has dealt with or is dealing with the challenges of autism.

While this government is supportive of many of the activities in research and ongoing awareness issues, primarily the issue of giving the support to people with this challenge falls into the hands of the provincial governments. There are a variety of programs across the spectrum among various provincial governments.

We would urge the provincial governments to continue to do what they can to have the kind of support on the ground that these families will need.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to speak in support of Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

There are many of us who have been affected by autism, either through families or friends. Many of my constituents in Don Valley East have approached me to help them with this problem.

Autism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Many times families of children of autism notice that their child's personality is different from other babies the same age. They hit milestones later and increasingly showed little awareness of the outside world. Their words became fewer, or they would bang or chew on their toes rather than playing with their toys.

Families could not understand why their child had so many tantrums and why tantrums were so common, or when a child flapped his or her arms wildly or shoved a nearby adult who ventured too near. Birthday parties or grocery shopping could be distorted by outbursts of anger and frustration and they were compounded when other people did not understand or judged the parenting of these families.

Eventually parents received the crushing diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. This diagnostic was made worse because there was a lack of understanding by the people around them.

Most parents are concerned whether their child will be an engineer, or lawyer, or teacher, or doctor or whether their child will marry and go forward in life. Parents with autistic children face the very real question of whether their children would lead independent lives or not and who would look after them when they were no longer around.

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurological condition that causes a range of development disability. Some people can function well, while others are locked in a world of their own.

Today ASD occurs in one in 165 children. This represents a 150% increase in the last six years, with no explanation for the dramatic increase. Worldwide, more children are affected by autism than AIDS, diabetes, pediatric cancer. In Canada a total of 48,000 children and 144,000 adults have some form of ASD.

Someone who shows a number of the following characteristics and behaviours would likely be diagnosed with ASD: first, shows no interest in other people; second, does not know how to play with or talk to people; and third, develops language and speech skills slowly or not at all, or initiates and maintains conversations with difficulties, repeats ritualistic actions such as rocking, spinning, or staring.

Someone with a mild case could go undiagnosed for years and might only be detected when the person goes through a crisis. This would then bring them in contact with professionals, who may or may not be able to recognize this disorder.

There is no known cause for autism, but research is focused on differences in brain function, environmental factors, genetics, immune responses and viral infection.

There are those who believe that autism is caused by vaccination and this has led them to endanger the lives of their children and countless others by refusing to allow proven vaccines to be given to their children. This unproven theory of a cause and effect of vaccination and ASD has no basis in science. Parents should not be scared into making irrational choices, but should weigh all the options in regard to the treatment necessary for their child.

No single test will confirm that someone has ASD. Some people with mild forms of autism may never need treatment as they may function well and even excel. However, those with severe forms of disorder cannot function and may benefit from active therapy.

There are several ways people with autism are treated. There is the applied behavioural analysis and intense behavioural intervention. These are both designed to actively engage children with behavioural communication, learning and socialization problems. However, therapy can be extremely expensive, as it may involved a one-on-one teaching for up to 40 hours per week, with a cost ranging from $30,000 to $80,000 a year.

When I heard my hon. colleague say that the government was committed, I hope it will do the right thing and instead of wasting money on corporate tax cuts or jets, it will focus on what is necessary for kids. These kids and their parents need the money. It is very important that we have our priorities right.

Other therapy may include counselling, development of motor and language skills, diet and medication and physiotherapy. It takes hard work, patience and sheer determination to help navigate the system and allow a child to emerge from the bonds of autism. The physical and psychological strain on a family can be overwhelming and the isolation profound.

I would like to first thank the sponsor of the bill, Senator Munson, as well as many colleagues who have been supportive in advancing this cause, MPs from Etobicoke North, Sackville—Eastern Shore, Sudbury, Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont and Verchères—Les Patriotes for their important work.

I also want to thank Senators Eggleton and Keon who were the chair and deputy chair of the standing senate committee, which provided an extensive report on funding for autism entitled “Pay Now or Pay Later”.

Bill S-211 calls for Canada to join with member states of the United Nations to focus the world's attention on autism each April 2. World Autism Awareness Day shines a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis and is one of only three disease-specific United Nations' days, reflecting the deep concern that the UN has.

Bill S-211 will not change the reality for families affected by autism. They struggle to make a future for their autistic child who is stuck, who needs better care and who needs better one-on-one intervention. These parents have to fight a battle every day to get treatments and make sacrifices to pay for those treatments.

I hope the government will put its money where its mouth is. Let us ensure that the government puts money for families, for care, because that is a very important aspect. As we can see, autism has increased 150% and there is no known reason. It is important that we, collectively, ensure that this problem is curtailed and that the parents whose child is autistic have the necessary resources.

The bill would increase the opportunities of Canadians to learn about autism and recognize that in their communities there are families living with ASD. Last year the United Nations hosted a rock concert by Rudely Interrupted, whose members have various disabilities, including ASD.

It is important that we fund research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure of autism and raise public awareness about families. In 2006, the American combating autism act authorized nearly $1 billion in expenditure over five years to help families. One in three, or approximately ten million, Canadians will be affected by a neurological or psychiatric disease disorder.

This past year Yoko Ono unveiled Promise. Let us keep our promise and help those children.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 2010 / 1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, as I did on November 23, 2009, when we debated Bill S-210 at second reading. In fact, this is a carbon copy of the same bill. Today, I will be reminding the House of our party's position.

First of all, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill. However, we believe that some elements of the preamble contravene the constitutional rights of Quebec and the provinces. Although health care is an important issue for all Canadians, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is an area of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces, as established by the Constitution. I would also like to reiterate that the federal government entered into an agreement with Quebec in 2004 which recognized Quebec's responsibility for this sector.

The special agreement with Quebec, which the federal government pompously referred to as an asymmetric agreement, recognized that health care is within the jurisdiction of the Quebec government and that Quebec is not accountable to Ottawa but to Quebeckers. Consequently, it is natural for Quebec to make decisions about its priorities, which may differ from those of Canada, in order to meet the needs of our nation.

The bill being debated today would designate April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. This initiative follows the decision by the UN which, in 2008, proclaimed April 2 to be World Autism Day in order to encourage families affected by this illness to seek the services to which they are entitled. Quebec has an autism day in April and Canada has one in October.

We are not concerned today with whether or not Bill S-211 is a good measure or not, because we must do all that is required to support those suffering from autism and their families. My reservations concern some of the elements that indicate the legislator's intent to subtly insinuate itself into a jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces.

First, we propose to delete lines 13 to 16 of the preamble, which state, “Whereas Canadian families affected by autism spectrum disorders have unequal access to services across the country”. That would respect Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction over health care.

That is also why I think it is inappropriate to read, “Whereas Canada has no national strategy to address autism spectrum disorders”.

Since we consider national health strategies, or Canada-wide strategies, to be encroachments on an area of jurisdiction belonging to Quebec and the provinces, we want this paragraph to be withdrawn.

As we have seen in other areas, a Canada-wide strategy could thwart the efforts made by Quebec in this regard by trying to standardize the practices involved. If the government decides to go ahead and impose a plan from coast to coast to coast, Quebec and the provinces will have to have the right to opt out with full compensation and no strings attached.

Except for these reservations, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill S-211. Since autism spectrum disorders affect more and more children around the world, it is important for families to have access to a growing number of services. The origin of and treatments for this disease are still not fully understood, making research into improving life for those with autism spectrum disorders even more necessary.

A World Autism Awareness Day is needed, not only to raise awareness about this complex syndrome, but also to encourage the public to contribute to improving the quality of life of thousands of families. It should be noted that Quebec has had an action plan for people with autism since 2003.

Around that time, the Government of Quebec published a report entitled “Un geste porteur d'avenir--Des services aux personnes présentant un trouble envahissant du développement, à leurs familles et à leurs proches” about services for people with pervasive developmental disorders, or PDDs, and their families.

Quebec decided to focus on the importance of offering more quality services and facilitating access to those services by creating organizations to provide services to people with pervasive developmental disorders in each region of Quebec. There are now 16 regional associations working to help these people and their families.

I would like to list these organizations, which are committed to helping people who really need help: Autisme Québec, Autisme Mauricie, Autisme et TED Centre-du-Québec, Société de l'autisme et des TED de l'Estrie, Action autisme et TED Haute-Côte-Nord Manicouagan, Association Nord-côtière de l'autisme et des troubles envahissants du développement, Société de l'Autisme--Région Lanaudière, Trait d'Union Outaouais, Société de l'autisme des Laurentides, Société de l'autisme et des autres troubles envahissants du développement de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Association régionale Autisme et TED Montérégie, Nouvel Essor--Volet autisme-TED pour la région de Chaudière-Appalaches, Association de l'autisme et des autres TED de l'Est-du-Québec, Société de l'autisme--Région Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Société de l'autisme et des TED de Laval, and Autisme et troubles envahissants du développement de Montréal.

At this point, I would like to describe the condition in more technical detail. Autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders affect about 60 children in 10,000. In 1980, that figure was 10 in 10,000. The incidence among boys is four times higher than that among girls. According to the international community, the rapid increase in pervasive developmental disorders is now considered a growing global crisis.

Although the number of autism cases is skyrocketing around the world, there are still many questions about the extent to which higher rates of diagnosis are related to changes in the way people with the condition are identified and categorized.

According to the Fédération québécoise de l'autisme et des autres troubles envahissants du développement, PDD comprises five disorders: autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, which includes atypical autism, and Rett syndrome. PDDs usually manifest in early childhood as communication, socialization and learning disorders and dysfunction involving the five senses due to neurological and chemical problems. Each case must be treated individually on the basis of personalized clinical assessments. There is no miracle cure, although some have experienced significant improvement using a variety of educational and psychological methods.

It appears that research on this subject must continue before we can fully understand the causes of autism, which is known for its complex nature. We must give researchers in this area an environment conducive to its study.

The Bloc Québécois is calling on the federal government to substantially increase research budgets and to transfer this money to Quebec and the provinces so they can better support university research chairs, for example. Whether it is basic or clinical health research, it falls under Quebec and provincial jurisdiction.

In closing, I would like to come back to a point I raised earlier, namely that in Quebec, April is Autism Month. With a theme such as “The many faces of autism”, it is an ideal time to raise awareness and inform the public. It is also an opportunity to break the taboos that continue to prevent those who are affected from integrating into society. Quebec singer Nicola Ciccone is a spokesperson. Many awareness activities are organized throughout Quebec for the occasion, from art exhibits to speeches by adults with autism.

On April 24, 2010, in a party-like atmosphere, the march for autism was held in 11 regions and drew 3,000 people, which is twice as many as the previous year. The sixth annual march will be held next April 30 and marches will be organized throughout Quebec. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the staff and volunteers who work to make this event a success, who are raising funds to help young people with autism attend a special day camp in summer 2011.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure as a member of Parliament, a Canadian citizen and a father to stand and speak and offer the full support of the New Democratic Party for Bill S-211. I also would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga for bringing this bill forward from the Senate.

It is also a pleasure to speak to a bill that has the uniform support of all members of the House and, I dare say, of all parties of the House as we all join together in trying to shed some light and increase support for Canadian citizens and in fact anyone in the world who is touched by autism spectrum disorder.

I am particularly pleased about this because one of the first bills I introduced in the House when I was elected in 2008 was Bill C-327, An Act respecting a Canadian Autism Day. At that time I said I was proud to introduce legislation that would recognize the work of those involved in every aspect of this subject and as well to recognize those who are affected by autism in any manner, whether as a person who has the disorder or as a family member or friend of someone who does.

My bill would recognize, as this one does, the challenges faced by friends and families of people with this condition and in particular parents who raise an autistic child and all the special people who work with and advocate for them. It is only right and long overdue to mark and appreciate these challenges. At that time my bill sought to make April 23 world autism day and to make that a Canadian autism day. I am pleased to say this concept is being pushed forward as well and I join with all the members of the House who have done so much work on this.

The creation of a national or international autism day brings light and attention to those who fall on the autism spectrum and to those who tirelessly support a family member or friend. It reminds us that we require so much more in terms of funding for research, support and coverage under the Canada Health Act, which is long overdue.

We have heard a lot of very excellent descriptions of the technicalities of this disorder, so I will be brief on this, but of course autism spectrum disorder refers to the vast continuum of severity and developmental impairment of unknown origin. It is estimated that one in every 165 children is born with a type of ASD. There are approximately 200,000 Canadians estimated to be living with an ASD. I say ASD because, as my colleague from the Bloc just pointed out, there are different types of autism spectrum disorder ranging from autism to Asperger syndrome to pervasive developmental disorder of unknown origin.

The most common autism spectrum disorder is found in young boys. In fact it is four times more common in boys than in girls, and autism is not related to race, ethnicity, family income, lifestyle or parenting. There is no standard type or “typical” person with an autism spectrum disorder.

This disorder is marked by some very specific signs and, of course, people fall within a wide spectrum with this disorder, from people who are profoundly affected all the way to extremely high functioning individuals. ASD is marked by difficulty with social skills. Some people with ASD show no interest in other people whatsoever. Others might be interested but not know how to talk to, play with, or relate to others. Initiating and maintaining a conversation is usually difficult for people with ASDs. It is marked by problems with communication. Speech and language skills may begin to develop, may begin late and then be lost, may develop more slowly or in fact may never develop.

Without appropriate intensive early intervention, about 40% of children with ASDs do not talk at all. People with ASDs are often unable to interpret nonverbal communication such as social distance cues or the use of gestures and facial cues that most of us take for granted. There can be repeated behaviours and restricted interests. People with ASDs may have repeated ritualistic actions such as spinning, repeated rocking, staring, finger flapping and sometimes hitting themselves.

They may also have very restricted interests, talking about or focusing obsessively on only one thing, idea or activity. Their habits may seem odd to others. Small changes in the environment or in a daily routine that most people can manage might trigger acute distress.

There is an unusual response to sensations in many cases. People with ASD may have both auditory and visual processing problems. Although sensory problems vary in autism, this can occur from mild to severe levels with over and under sensitivities of all types.

Last, it is important to note that people with ASD often have very unique abilities. Some have an accurate and detailed memory for information and facts, high visual recall and a superb ability to manipulate data for useful purposes. They may be able to concentrate for long periods of time on particular tasks and be far more attentive to details than most of us.

We have heard a lot about the scientific and technical aspect, but I want to talk about the human aspect.

Outside my door in Vancouver Kingsway, I have noticed over the past several months a grandfather who walks by every day, pulling a wagon with a young girl in it. The young girl appears to be about five or six years old. I went out the other day and I brought a little Canadian flag to give to her. When I approached her, she turned away and was absolutely unable to interact with me at all. It quickly became apparent to me that this young girl obviously had ASD. I was so touched by the fact that her grandfather, every day without fail, would take her out into the community. It made me realize how much ASD is in our communities.

My youngest daughter, Cerys Davies, suffers from a global developmental delay. It is not autism. She has many friends because we have had to become part of a community of parents who have children with differences of all types, ranging from Down's Syndrome to autism to physical and mental challenges of all types.

We must remember that we cannot just focus on autism. We have to focus on all developmental disorders that affect children, including those that are of unknown origin and even those that defy diagnosis. Hundreds of thousands of children in Canada are going to school every day without support, whether from a health care point of view or an educational point of view or social support point of view. We have to broaden this to include all of those children.

I want to also point out that world-class research is being done in my riding on autism. Dr. Anthony Bailey had the very first endowed chair in the world researching autism. He is based out of Children's Hospital, where he does world-class research, particularly genetics in the autism field. There is absolute excitement and endless possibilities for what we could do for people with autism because of this kind of research. I commend Dr. Bailey for that.

I want to quote from an email I received this morning from Lenore Clemens, who lives in my riding. She said:

Thank you, we need so many more resources, especially for those who have not received a definitive diagnosis BUT still all have the same general problem. No definitive diagnosis that fits a funding box, no supports for families or those with disabilities even with the same need for resources & therapeutic interventions. Doctors often admit even when they, themselves, can't make a definite diagnosis therapies & supports are needed but not available. Another huge issue is government, like the BC Liberals, is removing eligibility for supports from legislation...This is especially parents and schools. And a reminder to the House: tax credits don't work for the poor.

Another person wrote and said:

—what's happening in the Community Living sector in BC. They're moving developmentally disabled people out of group homes (shutting those down) into “home shares” with people they find on Craigslist. CLBC has to cut $22 million this fiscal year.

The bottom line is we need to have therapy and support for everybody with autism and all development disorders from childhood right through to adulthood.

This shows that it is not enough to declare a world autism day, as laudable and important as that is. We need to vastly increase the funding for not only research, which I give credit to the government for doing, but also to ensure we have supports for families and children at an early age. It is well known that early intervention for children with autism, as with every developmental disorder, is key to helping those children obtain the best possible results. We need to ensure there is support in schools, support from doctors and social supports in our communities to get these people the help they deserve.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their thoughtful discussion on Bill S-211.

I am pleased to have the chance today to speak to the bill. Autism is an issue that impacts so many families and individuals from all walks of life, both in Canada and around the world.

As we know, Bill S-211 was recently amended to improve the accuracy of the bill while preserving its intent to promote autism awareness. The government is pleased to support Bill S-211, particularly as it serves to underscore our commitment to promoting autism knowledge and awareness.

In practice, activities to promote autism awareness can take many forms and the ultimate outcome of these activities may vary as well. There is much that we do not know about autism, and to this end it is important to raise awareness of this condition so that it can be further understood and studied.

Autism can be difficult to diagnose. Early interventions are considered key. In this context, by educating Canadians about autism we can contribute to earlier detection and, ideally, to better outcomes.

Canadians impacted by autism are important members of our society with their own unique strengths. By promoting awareness of autism we can foster greater acceptance and understanding of these special individuals and provide them with the support they need to flourish.

These are, of course, only a few of the many reasons why it is important to foster awareness of autism. Actions to support autism awareness are continuous and take place each and every day through the efforts of governments, parliamentarians, stakeholder organizations, health care providers, researchers and Canadian citizens.

In supporting autism awareness it is important that we have some knowledge of the condition.

Autism is a spectrum disorder with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Autism symptoms may include impaired communication, difficulty getting involved in interactive games and low levels of interest in socializing.

That is not a complete list, but it does provide some good examples. Signs of autism can now be detected at 12 to 18 months of age, with most children being diagnosed before the age of 3. Autism is an extremely complex disorder that affects people for their whole lives.

Autism affects Canadians from all walks of life, as well as their families, friends and caregivers. There is no such thing as a typical person with autism. Each individual has very different needs, attitudes and abilities.

With respect to possible causes, genetic factors are emerging as the likeliest cause of autism, and researchers have shown how changes in certain genes contribute to the development of autism.

Results suggest that autism genes may behave differently depending on the child's sex and that autism is four times more common among men.

Researchers are also spending more time investigating whether environmental factors can trigger autism.

In terms of prevalence, Canadian and international studies do show that autism spectrum disorders are more prevalent than previously believed. However, this should be considered in the context of improved diagnostic techniques, better reporting and a broader definition of autism.

With respect to adults with autism, it is recognized that there is a need to offer supports across a lifespan. Moreover, adults with autism can suffer from co-morbid conditions, which furthers the need for support.

What is clear is that there are many issues surrounding autism and that more information is needed to better understand these issues. It is this government's perspective that knowledge and awareness truly go hand in hand. I am sure that many members would agree that having easy access to information and knowing we can trust that information can make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by autism. This is why the federal government has been working with its partners and stakeholders to enhance the autism evidence base. I would like to take a few moments to touch upon some of this important work.

One important aspect of autism knowledge is surveillance. It is widely recognized that there is a shortage of evidence about the prevalence, causes and best treatments for autism. This is why it is important that we keep watch over this condition.

Health surveillance is an ongoing process of data collection, expert analysis and interpretation, and furthermore, communicating the results or the resulting information that is gathered. Surveillance findings play an important role in supporting research, evidence-based health policies, programs and practices. This is why the Public Health Agency of Canada is starting a surveillance program that will help us to better understand the prevalence of autism in Canada.

In addition to surveillance, this government has placed an emphasis on the need for high-quality and rigorous research to find answers to many questions surrounding autism. This is why, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, the Government of Canada has spent or committed approximately $39.5 million for autism-related research.

In addition to health portfolio investments in research and surveillance, Health Canada has placed emphasis on the dissemination of autism knowledge. For example, Health Canada has invested in the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, which translates new research findings into terminology that is helpful for those who need it most, the individuals and the families who are affected by autism.

In conclusion, it is clear that the efforts to enhance autism knowledge and awareness can, will, and have touched the lives of many Canadians. This government is confident that its investments, in tandem with activity at the community, provincial and territorial levels, are culminating in tangible results by those affected by autism.

By supporting Bill S-211, this government is pleased to continue to have the chance to reinforce its commitment to improving autism knowledge and awareness.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to stand and speak to Bill S-211 and follow the excellent presentations on the part of the other members who have spoken today, as well the members who have spoken at previous times the bill was debated.

As mentioned, the bill was sponsored by Senator Munson. He has on several occasions sponsored the bill. Of course, with elections and prorogation of the House, we are still not quite there yet.

As an MLA for a number of years in Manitoba, I received dozens of inquiries from parents over the years, people who were very frustrated at the lack of programming available to them in the province, and within the province itself. This came after a time of probably 40 years of recognition that improvements had to be made in dealing with different disabilities and diseases.

People would call our office and talk about how it was such a financial burden on the family, where they would have to take extra jobs, or as a matter of fact, even quit jobs to be able to spend time with their children. Then they would have to sit on big waiting lists to take advantage of programs. That was in the city of Winnipeg, where we had a decent program. Can one imagine the problems if one lived in a rural area where the programs are not available at all?

We have to look at this and take a national approach. I guess that is one of the downsides of health care being a provincial responsibility. What we have is a patchwork quilt of programs across the country.

It is widely known that Alberta has a very good series of programs, but that should be available right across the country. It is incumbent upon the national government to work with the provinces and stakeholders to come up with a national approach.

I am reminded that the United States is much further along than we are in that area.

I look at the preamble of Bill S-211 to get a perspective on what is anticipated here. It is an act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, but the preamble points out that autism spectrum disorders affect a significant number of families in Canada. I have heard the statistics and the numbers are quite alarming.

The preamble continues:

Whereas Canada has a health care system and social safety net to prevent illness and serve citizens;

Whereas Canadian families affected by autism spectrum disorders have unequal access to services across the country;

I think that is a crucial statement in itself.

For example, my wife worked for six years in Winnipeg with Versatech Industries. It is a very well-known organization in Winnipeg that employs people with different abilities. It provides a very important source of help and certainly some financial help to people.

However, I am not certain that this type of program is available across the country. As a matter of fact, I am not aware that it is available in any part of the country other than Winnipeg.

We really do have to pull everyone together here and not simply look at this in terms of each province on its own basically trying to solve the problem. That is not going to work.

Worldwide, the number of diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders is growing as well.

Many speakers have mentioned that there is a greater awareness of the importance for early diagnosis, which is a big help in terms of getting treatment for people with autism. Also, early intervention in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders can have promising results in helping people engage with and contribute to society. A number of years ago I think people were simply not aware of the problem and tended to ignore it. The recognition that we have to be proactive is coming to the forefront in this country.

It has been pointed out that there is no known cause or cure for autism spectrum disorders and 192 United Nations representatives agree that the World Autism Awareness Day could draw the attention of people across the globe to this neurological disorder that is affecting an increasing number of families. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly designated April 2, from 2008 on, as Autism Awareness Day.

Canada is a signatory, as members know, to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which maintains that children with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life in conditions that ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate their active participation in the community, while also enjoying all active human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children. That is contributing to the demand by parents in society in general that these children need to be helped now and not somehow put off for future attention. Canada is a member of the United Nations and supports the vital work of that organization.

April 2 will be known as World Autism Awareness Day. I believe the federal minister announced last year that April 2 would be World Autism Awareness Day.

In terms of autism itself, ASD is a neurological disorder that causes developmental disability. The term “spectrum” refers to a continuum of severity or development impairment. People with ASD develop differently from others in the areas of motor , language, cognitive and social skills. Autism causes difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, difficulties with social interaction and understanding and unusual patterns of behaviour, activities and interests.

Approximately 200,000 Canadians are living with an autism spectrum disorder. This figure does not account for the numerous family members and caregivers whose lives are profoundly affected by autism. It is estimated that 1 in every 165 Canadian children born today has ASD.

One of the Liberal members mentioned that there is a feeling on the part of some people that vaccinations may play a part in this. Another member mentioned genetics, which I think is probably a more reasonable assessment than the former.

Disabilities caused by ASD may be very mild in one person and quite severe in another. As a matter of fact, it has been pointed out that autism is four times more common in boys than in girls.