House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was autism.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the will of the House to give this motion unanimous consent?

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to)

(Bill C-21. On the Order: Government Orders:)

December 14, 2010--Third reading of Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud)--Minister of Justice.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

(Bill S-5. On the Order: Government Orders:)

December 10, 2010--Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities--Consideration at report stage of Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

(Bill concurred in at report stage)

The House resumed from October 29 consideration of the motion that Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona has one minute left for his comments.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to finish my speech on Bill S-211.

Approximately 200,000 Canadians are living with autism spectrum disorder. It is estimated that 1 in every 165 Canadian children born today has ASD, and worldwide the number of diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders is growing as well.

Clearly, early diagnosis is a big help in order to get treatment for people with autism. There is no known cause or cure for autism spectrum disorders. In fact, 192 United Nations representatives agree that World Autism Awareness Day could draw the attention of people across the globe to this neurological disorder that is affecting an increasing number of people.

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 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which maintains that children with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent—

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must interrupt the hon. member. His time has elapsed.

Resuming debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to stand up today to speak to the bill regarding autism awareness. It is an excuse for me to spend 10 minutes talking about my son, Jaden, who is 15 years old and has autism.

Before I do that, though, I want to express my thanks. I could spend 10 minutes thanking people, but I will limit it to a few specific people. I will start with the Minister of Health, who declared a couple of years ago that April 2 would be recognized as World Autism Awareness Day. I also want to thank Senator Jim Munson, who has taken a non-partisan approach to this issue, looking to find agreement, and that is very rare in this place sometimes. I want to thank the minister's chief of staff, Scott Tessier, who has done a phenomenal amount of work helping me to coordinate some meetings with stakeholders and with officials so that we can come to a better understanding of autism and a better awareness on all sides.

I want to thank some of the specific people who were part of those meetings. I want to thank Suzanne Lanthier from Autism Speaks Canada. She is the executive director, and it was Autism Speaks that, with the UN, started World Autism Awareness Day three years ago.

I want to thank Laurie Mawlam from Autism Canada, Kathleen Provost from the Autism Society Canada and Marg Whelan from the Geneva Centre, who have been taking part in these meetings and all of whom work tirelessly to build awareness of autism and advocate for families across this country who are affected by this disorder.

I also want to thank some specific officials who were part of those meetings and have really expressed not only a desire to learn more but a real expertise in the area: Kim Elmslie from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Nathalie Gendron from CIHR and Karen Dodds and Gavin Brown from Health Canada.

These meetings have been fantastic. One of the things they sought to do is learn more about autism, but another thing they have been able to do is articulate some of the great things that are going on in terms of autism research right here in Canada and another priority for these communities in terms of surveillance. There are some really exciting things happening in Canada.

Others have spoken to these things, and I will spend my time from here on in, if I could, just talking about my son and using the example of our family and of Jaden to try to educate members of the House and maybe raise some more awareness of some of the challenges that families deal with.

I have one final thanks in regard to that. I want to thank my own family. My wife Debi has given up so much of her time and energy to help create a better life for our son. She gave up 12 years of a teaching career to run Jaden's program at our home and have workers coming through the house six hours a day, six days a week, over the early years of Jaden's life to help create a better circumstance for him.

I want to thank Jenae, who is now 11, his sister. When she was five years old she said something that I thought was very insightful and that a lot of kids who are siblings of people with autism can relate to. She said of her then-nine-year-old brother, “I'm his little sister, but I'm like his big sister”. She is now 11. She is just starting to babysit, and one of her first jobs consistently right now is to babysit her 15-year-old brother, which is a unique circumstance for any 11-year-old, I am sure. She has just been fantastic with him and a real blessing in our lives.

Every Sunday night I tuck the kids into bed and we have a routine with Jaden. He does not talk, but he looks at my face, he grabs my cheeks very firmly and he expresses with his eyes this absolute need to know what is happening with the week. He is obsessed with schedules. He is obsessed with travel. He has to know every day, so I go through a routine where I look him in the eyes and I say, “Today is Sunday, Jaden, and tomorrow morning I am going to hop on a plane and I'm going to fly to Ottawa, and then I'm going to be in Ottawa on Monday”, and I have to go through each day, “on Monday, on Tuesday night, on Wednesday night, on Thursday night, and then on Friday, Daddy's coming home”. At that point a smile comes across his face. He is satisfied because he knows what my schedule is. He can now go to sleep and get some rest.

Then on Friday when I get home, my family is there to pick me up and Jaden, a 15-year-old teenage boy, just has the biggest smile on his face when I get home, when I open the door. The first thing he wants to do is give me a big kiss. How many 15-year-old boys cannot wait until their dad gets home so they can give him a kiss?

That is what Jaden is like. He expresses his emotions honestly. We know exactly how he is feeling. If he is sad, he cries. If he is happy, he laughs. He cannot talk but if we ask him how he is doing, he will answer with a high five or a thumbs up to tell us that everything is good, and always with a smile on his face if they are good.

I will just tell members a bit about Jaden's past. As a young boy, he loved to play hockey. He went out on the ice and I had the chance to go out and play with him. He loved ice cream and there is a story that a lot of parents can relate to. One time we were at an Oilers game. I worked for the Edmonton Oilers. I was sitting in the seats with him and he decided he wanted some ice cream, but rather than ask me for some ice cream, he did the easiest thing. He reached over the shoulder of the little girl who was sitting in front of him and just simply grabbed the ball of ice cream off the top of her cone and stuck it in his mouth, with a big smile on his face. He was seven years old and looked like any other kid, but he saw ice cream, he wanted it, and that is how he got it, with a big smile on his face.

It gave me an opportunity to educate another parent, her father, who was quite startled by the situation but quickly understood when I explained that my son had autism, and that is what I find, time and time again with Canadians, a real understanding when I take the time to explain the situation to them.

I am already running short on time. I knew, when I was looking at what I wanted to say, that this was going to happen. I want to jump now to his teenage years and explain a bit about Jaden's teenage years. Now is he 15, but when he was 13, he went through a time of real anxiety. Can we imagine being 13 years old and not being able to talk, not being able to express ourselves? Kids with autism do not deal with abstract things very well, so with any emotions that he had and changes that he was going through, he could not articulate in any way what it was like to go through those things, so he started to experience some anxiety.

It is heartbreaking for parents. It is important, obviously, for teachers and those dealing with these kids to understand that that can be a real challenge. Now that he is 15, he has gone through that and now we are dealing with some new challenges. How do we give Jaden independence? How do we allow him to succeed? How do we find things that he can be successful at? This is another challenge that families go through.

In Jaden's case, what he is successful at is that he loves to work in the library at school. He will take all the books that come in. He loves to put things in order and he cannot wait to get to the library, to leave class. I guess that is a typical 15-year-old thing. He cannot wait to get out of class so that he can go to the library and put away books for an hour at a time. He does it probably better than any other kid would do it, because he is excited to put things in order. He loves order. He loves things that are concrete.

As we look to the future, we deal with questions that every parent of a child with autism deals with. Kids with autism do not have a shorter life span than the rest of us. They are going to live just as long as the rest of us, notwithstanding the fact that they are more prone to dangerous things that they do not understand. Every parent has to deal with the question of what will happen when we are not there for our children anymore. What happens when we move on and maybe some kids do not have the support networks that we have? They do not have siblings who can take care of them. Maybe siblings are there but cannot take care of them because they cannot cope with it. Those are questions that need to be understood as well.

When we are talking about autism awareness, it is so important. That is why this bill is so important. It is so important to us, as families, that people begin to understand, and of course for politicians to understand so that we can make the best decisions possible for the families. It is important for the larger community to understand what we go through so that when our child throws himself down in a grocery store at seven years old, looking like any other child but having a tantrum in the middle of a grocery store, it does not just look like bad parenting, that people kind of understand and recognize what is going on.

Looking at an initial diagnosis, we had some problems when Jaden was originally going through some challenges at a young age, problems with recognizing it as autism. More and more doctors today, because of the efforts of people like Laurie, Kathleen, Marg and Suzanne, are recognizing autism when they are looking at kids and some of the challenges they face.

I would conclude just by thanking all of my colleagues in this House and my constituents for taking the time to understand, my friends in the media, the House of Commons staff and security who have been so fantastic with Jaden over the years, and people who take time across this country to understand what families dealing with autism are going through.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

December 15th, 2010 / 6 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to put a few thoughts on the record on the important subject of autism and the establishment of a day when we might recognize this challenge that affects so many families across the country.

We know so little about autism and need to do so much more work on it. Most important, we must provide some meaningful concrete support to some of these families that, in many instances, spend their life savings, mortgage their homes and give everything they absolutely have out of love for their children in the hope that one day those children will be able to participate in society in the way we all want our children to participate.

The New Democrats support the Senate bill to designate April 2 of each year as World Autism Awareness Day. However, every day we should be thinking about what we can to lift the burden of so many people in our ridings and across the country. Every day they wake up to the reality that they have very special children who have some very special needs and they hope they will get the help they require.

I do not think anyone here has not one day or another, while back in our ridings, had a meeting with some family that has shared the challenges of having such a special child in the family, the pain, the suffering and the grief that goes along with that because the family cannot find the services and support in the community.

Government does not seem to be able to find a way. As a provincial member of the Ontario legislature, I met with groups of families in my riding office. We tried to case manage and work our way through how we might take advantage of some of the very scarce resources that were available through the provincial government.

I guess the provincial government has tried to the best it can with the limited resources it has available to it, but it is not even close to enough. It hardly scratches the surface. That is why we will support this minimal effort to bring some focus and attention to this reality by supporting the other parties in the House in recognizing autism on April 2 of each year.

Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, supports the acknowledgement of the families affected by autism spectrum disorders and the declaration that April 2 be recognized as world autism awareness day.

Many of my colleagues, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Sudbury, at one time or another have brought forward bills to the House that if passed and honoured by the government, would have provided, in a very serious and meaningful way, the kind of support that families need, which would go a long way to resolving some of the financial difficulties that come with trying to provide the services and support. I know this from having met with families and having listened to them. I heard their pleas.

I know these three members have brought bills before the House. In fact, the member for Vancouver Kingsway brought a similar bill to the one we discussing. Hopefully Bill C-327, a Canadian autism day, will pass in the House.

The member for Sudbury wanted to amend the Canada Health Act so autism could be brought under that umbrella. By amending the act, resources would not be limited in the way they are now. Families could tap into those resources and get the help they needed and get on with their lives.

The member for Sudbury headed up the United Way at one time in Sudbury. He oversaw a number of programs and initiatives that helped the people of that community in meaningful ways. He called for a national strategy on autism, which would have allowed us to respond to this challenge in a more concrete way.

My colleagues and I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the Senate bill before us today. However, we call on the government to become more involved and to do something more concrete other than simply naming a day for people to focus on autism and learn more about it.

We could be providing services to families 365 days of the year. One of our most fundamental responsibilities is to look after those in our communities who are most at risk and in need of services so they can be socially included in their communities, in their schools and in their recreational programs. We could do this if only there were the political will.

The initial bill, Bill C-211 put forward by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, called on the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that the cost of autism therapy, more commonly known as ABA or IBI, would be covered by their health care insurance plans of every province and territory. That would mean the federal government would have to sit down with the provinces and territories. It could do that now, as they renegotiate the agreement, and ensure it includes in the transfer of funds to the provinces and territories the kinds of money and resources needed to bring autism therapy under the Canada Health Act.

The provinces want to do this. Between 1990 and 2003, I spoke with officials in the Ontario ministry of health. They would love to do this, but they do not have the resources. Let us sit down and talk with them and work out a way to ensure the provinces get the money they need to make this happen.

When the bill was first introduced as Bill C-211 there was a need for the government to engage itself in discussions with the provinces so autism therapy, ABA, IBI, and other therapies, would be covered by the health care insurance plan in every province and territory. This way families, which found themselves mortgaging their homes, in some cases bankrupting themselves so they could look after their children to give them a good start in life and some opportunity in life to participate, would have the resources they needed.

We believe amendments need to be made to section 2 of the Canada Health Act. We believe ABA and IBI should be listed in the act as medically necessary services or required services for people with autism spectrum disorder.

I remember my colleague, Shelley Martel, the critic for health in Ontario, the member for Nickel Belt, also called for this. I would join with her today to say let us get on with this and get it done but, at the very least, let us support this day of autism awareness.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I stand to speak today about an issue that is near and dear to my heart and to the hearts of so many Canadians in Oshawa and around the country, autism spectrum disorders, or ASD.

ASD affects many Canadians, including my son, of all ages and walks of life, from coast to coast to coast. This is why the government is committed to building knowledge of and awareness about this serious condition. Indeed, this government is pleased to have the opportunity to voice its endorsement of Bill S-211. By supporting the bill, we underscore our standing commitment to recognize April 2 as annual World Autism Awareness Day.

Many have heard of the government's significant investments in autism related research, and I am very proud of that. This important work is being spearheaded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, otherwise referred to as CIHR. In the spirit of promoting autism awareness and knowledge, I would like to take this opportunity to outline this work and some important findings that it has engendered.

One of CIHR's main priorities is to promote health and reduce the burden of chronic diseases and mental illness. In this context, CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is working with partners in the autism community to set research priorities, coordinate action and accelerate the speed at which knowledge is translated into improved well-being for Canadians with autism.

I am pleased to report that over recent years, CIHR has invested approximately $29 million in ASD-related research projects. Of this amount, roughly $16 million has been devoted to better understanding the causes of ASD. Moreover, CIHR has committed another $10.5 million in this area, with plans to focus on the characterization and treatment of ASD.

In 25 years of children's mental health practice and research, there have been many challenges in thinking about the causes and treatment of autism and there is much work under way to understand the genetic causes of autism and whether there are also environmental triggers. For example, Dr. Peter Szatmari, head of Child Psychiatry, McMaster University, is co-leader of the CIHR-funded Canadian arm of an international study seeking to track down the complex mix of genes involved in ASD.

The international autism genome project, or AGP, is the world's first international collaboration on genetic factors in children's mental health, involving more than 170 leading genetics researchers from over 50 centres in the U.S.A., Europe and Canada.

Since the launch of the autism genome project, at least two dozen genes have been identified and associated with ASD, including four new genes in the latest phase of the study. Based on genetic studies of twins in families, which have shown that ASD propensity can be genetic, researchers estimate that 5% to 15% of autism cases can be linked to specific known genes. In addition, researchers have begun to quantify the influence of genetic patterns and have found that those with ASD were 20% more likely to have abnormalities in the number of copies of specific genes.

Another CIHR-funded initiative is the pathways in ASD project, a one of a kind collaborative research study being led by researchers from McMaster University. The pathways project is focused on understanding how children with ASD develop and change and how family stress evolves over time. It also seeks to identify child, family, school and community factors that might act as predictors, mediators or moderators of key outcomes, information that will ideally be used to develop new intervention programs.

To date, approximately 440 children from 5 different locations across Canada have been enrolled in the study, making it the largest prospective study of ASD ever developed. The project will examine a number of factors that influence areas of development related to the child, the family and the community as a whole, such as social confidence, communication skills, behaviour and the ability to function independently.

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 strengths.

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, this latest project will expand the program. This project will address the pressing needs of Canadians affected by autism as well as their families by building research capacity in this very important 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.

Finally, in another CIHR funded project, Dr. Richard Tremblay of Université de Montréal is conducting a series of longitudinal studies that trace the early childhood development trajectories of disruptive behaviour problems and their association with the developmental trajectories of other health problems such as inattention, emotional problems, sleep problems and obesity.

There is a plethora of research projects under way that seek to better understand autism and to bolster the ASD evidence base. Indeed, the studies I have described today present only a sample of this very important work. It is my hope that as we recognize and celebrate World Autism Awareness Day in years to come, Canada will be able to share the ongoing results of such research and succeed in boosting our collective knowledge and awareness of this serious condition leading ultimately to successful treatment.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues who have played an important role in this very important day: the Minister of Health, the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, other colleagues in both the Senate and the House of Commons, the researchers across Canada and around the world, the volunteers in local and national autism awareness organizations and, of course, the families of such wonderful kids.

On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, we will all remember this very important condition and I think the House will fully endorse this wonderful bill.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for a five minute reply.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to have the opportunity to provide a few concluding remarks to this critical public health issue of autism. As I indicated in my earlier remarks, so much has been accomplished over the last 35 years, but much more needs to be done.

I recall very distinctly serving with the Waterloo County School Board in 1978 when autism had recently been identified and to see how the school officials struggled without a grapple with the best way to serve those children. Here we are 32 years later having learned a lot but still having a long way to go.

Our 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.

Many times over the last five years since I have served here in Parliament, and again today, my friend and colleague from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont has shared his very personal journey with this House. He demonstrated how a family deals effectively with the enormous challenges faced by those dealing with autism. It has been a real honour for me and my colleagues on this side of the House especially, but all members, to have met Jaden, to see the fantastic enjoyment that he gets from life and to experience the joy that he gives to us as members.

I am amazed at the perseverance and tenacity that is needed by every family and community that deals with autism on a daily basis. It is clear that we need to do all that we can to raise awareness and work toward effective support and solutions. That is why the Minister of Health last year declared April 2 would be known as World Autism Awareness Day across Canada.

Today it is an honour to have the opportunity to reiterate our government's commitment by expressing our support for Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

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.

As my colleague from Oshawa noted, 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 researchers and aim to uncover the mysteries of autism.

As previous speakers have noted as well, there are multiple partners working to address the challenges that come with autism. All stakeholders in ASD want the same thing: better treatments and early diagnosis for those affected by ASD so that ultimately they can enjoy better outcomes.

To this end, our government is working with partners and stakeholders to promote autism awareness. Research and awareness are essential to moving the markers forward. In declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day and supporting Bill S-211, we have further contributed to this important objective.

I want to thank Senator Munson for this important initiative and I urge all members of this House to give their enthusiastic support for this bill. This will give one more glimmer of hope to those families who are dealing with the challenges of autism.

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

World Autism Awareness Day Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.