World Autism Awareness Day Act

An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.


In committee (House), as of Nov. 23, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates the second day of April in each and every year as “World Autism Awareness Day”.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
See context


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are resuming the debate at second reading of Bill S-210, the sole purpose of which is to institute World Autism Awareness Day.

On reading the bill, which contains only one clause and several “whereas” paragraphs, it is clear that it was written by a Canadian. It is clear to me, as a Quebecker, that some of these paragraphs concern elements that fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

I will discuss this with my colleagues when this bill goes to the Standing Committee on Health, of which I am a member. Many of the matters that come before this particular committee for study fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Canadians represented by the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party cannot seem to distinguish between matters that the federal government is responsible for and those that legislative assemblies in Quebec and the provinces are responsible for.

As Quebeckers, Bloc Québécois members feel it is important to remind people about each level of government's responsibilities. For example, in the context of the current study on human resources in health care, it is clear that training, professional associations and deployment of resources in hospitals and social services centres fall exclusively within the Government of Quebec's jurisdiction. That being said, I will address the problem “whereas” statements in committee.

I highly doubt that any member of the House would be against instituting World Autism Awareness Day. As we all know, any disorder can deeply affect those who have it and their family members. It is therefore important to give people regular reminders so that they can become more aware of the issue. We should also take time to recognize the health professionals and researchers who work to minimize suffering and find long-term solutions.

I would now like to talk about autism to begin building awareness among those listening and members of the House who may or may not be familiar with the disorder.

The information I will share was taken from the Internet. The website of the Fédération québécoise de l'autisme et des autres troubles envahissants du développement says that autistic disorder, better known as autism or Kanner's autism, is one of five pervasive developmental disorders. The other four developmental disorders are: childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett syndrome, pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified or atypical autism, and Asperger's syndrome.

I should point out that autistic disorder, pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified and Asperger's syndrome are the three most common types of pervasive developmental disorders.

According to this site, there are three categories of symptoms commonly seen with people who have pervasive developmental disorders: difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication; difficulties with social interaction; and restricted interests and/or repetitive behaviours.

Here are some quick facts about autistic disorders: they affect 4.3 boys for every 1 girl; they lead to different developments among children of the same age; individuals have difficulties maintaining eye contact; they cause delayed, non-existent or abnormal language development; they cause individuals to have repetitive and limited play; there is abnormal posture, walk or movement; and, 10 out of every 10,000 people have a PDD, according to a Fombonne study conducted in 2003.

Autistic disorder is one of the most common types of PDD, which refers to pervasive developmental disorder. I remind members that PDD affects four or five boys for every one girl, and is defined as a neurological disorder characterized by a delay in the overall development of an individual's basic functions.

Mutism is present in nearly half of all cases of autism. Non-verbal autistics have major problems with comprehension, mimicry and gestures. Impaired imagination can be manifested by a lack of symbolic games and stories invented with toys, or by difficulties imitating the actions of others. A number of autistic people show weaknesses in terms of motor coordination. Many also have difficulties with fine and gross motor skills. Autism can be found in individuals with varying levels of intelligence. However, the majority of people with autism seem to have lower than average intellectual performance, and present adaptive behaviour deficits, so in this respect, they are similar to people who have moderate or severe intellectual disabilities. Because of their particular characteristics, many people with autism also have behavioural problems.

A diagnosis of autism implies that the deficits have appeared before the age of three, that they have become a part of the individual's functioning, and that they are nearly constantly present.

The Autism Society Canada website also describes the general characteristics, and I would like to read them now.

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, have challenges with the following: social interactions; verbal and non-verbal communication; the ability to learn (in the usual settings); repetitive behaviours; unusual or severely limited activities and interests.

They usually find it hard to communicate with others in a typical way and have difficulty understanding social conventions. As a result, individuals with autism may respond in unusual ways to everyday situations and changing environments.

Autism varies tremendously in severity. Individuals with severe autism conditions may have ... symptoms of extremely repetitive and unusual behaviours. This can include ... self-injury ... and aggression.... Without appropriate intensive intervention, these symptoms may be very persistent and difficult to change. Living or working with a person with severe autism can be very challenging, requiring tremendous patience and understanding of the condition. In its mildest form, however, autism is more like a personality difference caused by difficulties in understanding social conventions.

There are also a number of related disorders.

Many individuals with autism have other health problems, for example: neurological disorders including epilepsy; gastro-intestinal problems, sometimes severe; compromised immune systems; fine and gross motor deficits; and anxiety and depression.

That information can all be found on the Autism Society Canada website.

I also wanted to talk about the impact it has on the family, but since I am out of time, I will have to leave it at that.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:10 a.m.
See context


Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to voice my wholehearted support, as well as that of my caucus, for Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day. If passed, this bill would declare April 2 world autism awareness day.

Prior to donning a political hat, for 10 years on the west coast and of course in my great riding of Sudbury, Ontario, I was a front-line worker supporting individuals with autism and their families.

Let us first look at why it is important to have a world autism awareness day. First and foremost, what is autism? Believe it or not, there are still many people who do not understand this neurological condition or its potential impacts on behaviour.

The term autism is used quite generally to describe a wide spectrum of symptoms. Since children's severity of symptoms can vary so widely, professionals have been using the term autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, to emphasize this variance.

Autism occurs four times more frequently in boys than in girls. Autism occurs in all countries and within all socio-economic classes. There is no cure for autism, so treatment may reduce a person's symptoms, but he or she will still suffer from autism.

More often than not, children with autism exhibit unconventional reactions to sensory stimulation. Some children show a hypersensitivity to stimuli while others display a hyposensitivity to stimuli.

A great example of that was found in one individual I was supporting. That individual had a very difficult time going to a specific pool and, as support staff, we could not figure out why this individual had such difficulty going to that pool. After numerous attempts, we figured out it was the glare from the lights on the pool that made it difficult for the person to go to that particular pool. We moved to a different location and that person was then able to swim, once again being integrated into the community.

Another fact about autism that many do not know is that a large number of friends and neighbours are affected by it. According to some reports, autism affects more children worldwide than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. In fact, one in two hundred families in Canada is living with autism. Those families and others around the world need the government to help. They need all of us to help.

Unfortunately, because of our society's misunderstandings and lack of knowledge of what autism is and how it can affect people, families and children with autism can often feel isolated from their friends, classmates, neighbours, communities and, of course, the world around them.

Many different therapies are available, but waiting lists are long and many therapies are not covered by our health care system. It is not easy, but many individuals and groups across Canada and in my riding of Sudbury have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about autism.

The Sudbury and district chapter of Autism Ontario is one of them, and I would like to congratulate Mr. Rick Grylls, the former president of CAW Mine Mill Local 598, who took on this cause once he retired. He has been working tirelessly on its behalf. This group was re-established over two years ago by a small group of dedicated volunteers.

The group holds workshops throughout the year, complete with guest speakers, all in an effort to educate members of the Sudbury community about autism. Some of the issues the Sudbury chapter has raised include positive behaviour interventions, sensory issues, educational advocacy and how to build friendships for individuals with autism.

I applaud the Sudbury and district chapter of Autism Ontario and, in particular, Heather McFarlane, president of the Sudbury and district chapter of Autism Ontario for her continued dedication and hard work and, of course, as mentioned earlier, my friend Rick Grylls, who has been a tireless advocate for this cause that is as close to his heart as it is to mine.

Autism Ontario was also fortunate enough to pair up with one of Sudbury's finest country singers, Larry Berrio, in May of this year for a concert at the Fraser Auditorium to promote autism awareness. Larry generously gave some of his good fortune back to the local community. His wife, a child psychologist, has been helping Sudbury families deal with autism for years. Mr. Berrio has said there is a lack of autism awareness in the area.

Another huge help with this concert was Brenda Ranger, who is with Canadian Injury Management Services. She and others have been huge allies of this local awareness campaign.

Another important local ally of autism awareness is the movement right now by the Sudbury Catholic District School Board. In October of this year, the school board partnered with Autism Ontario's Sudbury and district chapters to share office space within the St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School. With this space, Autism Ontario will be able to hold weekly office hours and to meet with members of our community, school staff, and individuals and families on the autism spectrum disorder to provide support and share resources.

I would be remiss not to thank Yolanda Thibeault, my wife, for her countless hours of work at the Catholic school board on this file. I am very proud of my wife's tireless efforts as the coordinator at the Catholic school board providing support to teachers, teachers' aides, and the families and students dealing with autism. This will also get me in her good books.

While we do not know very much about autism, we do know that the earlier the treatment, the more successful it tends to be. That is why I introduced Bill C-360, An Act to amend the Canada Health Act (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This act will actually open up the health act to look at some of the treatments we can provide to children who are diagnosed with autism at the early stage.

When people with autism do not receive treatment in a timely fashion, it means they are denied the tools they need to succeed and to contribute to the community.

IBI or ABA treatment can, in some cases, cost up to $65,000 a year. Each province has a different approach to funding treatment, and far too many families have to remortgage their homes, find a second job or make other sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the treatment they need. This is shameful.

I think the federal government and all parliamentarians need to take the lead and adopt a national strategy, or at least look at creating a national strategy on this file.

The cost for society also increases when treatment is lacking. I believe a Senate report called, “Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis”, outlined this issue.

Canada needs treatment, interventions and services for both children and adults with autism. The title of the report, “Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis”, came from a man from New Brunswick. He said, “Look, we either have to pay now or pay later.” I think that sums it up.

Would it not be great if Canada could do as much as our neighbour the United States is doing to help our own citizens with autism? Let us recognize that autism is serious and affects a growing number of Canadian families. Let us declare April 2 World Autism Awareness Day.

It is great to be able to speak to this issue. I look forward to celebrating April as World Autism Awareness Day.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:20 a.m.
See context


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, my adopted kids were born healthy, but early in their lives their families noticed that their personalities were different from those of other babies of the same age. They hit milestones later and they increasingly showed little awareness of the outside world. Their words became fewer and they banged or chewed their toys, rather than playing with them. Tantrums were common, and others were quick to judge them when, for example, the child flapped his or her arms or shoved a nearby adult who had ventured too near. Even birthday parties or grocery shopping could be distorted by outbursts of anger and frustration.

Eventually the parents received the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, which is often made harder by a lack of understanding of those around them.

Most parents are concerned with whether their children will be engineers, lawyers or teachers, and whether their children will find happiness and marry. My adopted kids' parents faced the very real questions of whether their children would lead independent lives or not, and who would look after them when they, the parents, were no longer around.

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

Today ASD occurs in 1 in 165 children, representing an increase of 150% in the last six years, and there is no explanation for the dramatic increase. Worldwide more children are affected by autism than AIDS, diabetes and pediatric cancer. In Canada a total of 48,000 children and 144,000 adults have some form of ASD.

A child who shows a number of the following characteristics and behaviours would likely be diagnosed with autism: if he or she shows no interest in other people; does not know how to play with or talk to people; develops language and speech skills slowly, or not at all; can only initiate and maintain conversations with difficulty; and repeats ritualistic actions, such as rocking, spinning or staring.

A person with a mild case could go for years and may only be detected when he or she goes through a crisis that brings them into contact with professionals who are able to recognize the disorder.

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

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 the disorder cannot function and may benefit from active therapy.

There are several ways that people with autism are treated. Applied behavioural analysis and intensive behavioural intervention are designed to actively engage the children with behavioural, communication, learning and socialization problems. Therapy can be extremely expensive, as it may involve one-on-one teaching for up to 40 hours per week, with costs ranging from $30,000 to $80,000 a year. 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 am therefore honoured to rise in the House to speak in support of Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

I would first like to thank the sponsor of the bill, Senator Munson, as well as my many colleagues in the House who have been supporting and advancing this cause. I also thank Senator Eggleton, who was the chair of the standing Senate committee that provided an extensive report on funding for autism, entitled “Pay now or Pay Later”.

Bill S-210 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 it is one of only three disease-specific United Nations days. It reflects the UN's deep concern about the prevalence and high rate of autism in children in all regions of the world, and the consequent development challenges for long-term health care, education, training and intervention programs, as well as its tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies.

This day also acknowledges the extraordinary talents of people living with autism, as well as their ongoing struggles and those of their caregivers, families and friends.

This bill will not change the reality of families affected by autism, people such as Jacob, Dee and Mary in my community. Jacob is a beautiful little boy with long eyelashes, who loves technology and is an accomplished photographer. His prizewinning picture of owls is front and centre on my desk at work. His mother, Dee, left her job to focus full-time on Jacob. She and Aunt Mary, an 82-year-old who is currently recovering from heart surgery, are his greatest advocates, but they still have to fight every day to get treatments and to make the sacrifices necessary to pay for those treatments.

This bill will increase Canadians' opportunities to learn about autism and to recognize that in their communities there are families living with ASD, people like our Jacob, who is a superstar.

Last year the United Nations hosted a rock concert by Rudely Interrupted, whose members have various disabilities, including ASD. The words of lead singer Rory Burnside were especially inspiring:

My advice to kids who have some form of disability is: don’t let it stop you. Use it as your strength; don’t use it as your weakness. One red light can lead to a whole bunch of green lights, with a few orange lights thrown in. And the red lights are just a bit of a test.

I have seen first-hand what caring people who work tirelessly can achieve. We must change the future for all those who struggle with ASD. That means each of us must fight hard for every Jacob in our community, and when roadblocks are put in front of families, we must work all the harder. We must fund research into the causes, prevention, treatment and cure for autism and raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families and societies.

In 2006, the United States' Combating Autism Act authorized nearly $1 billion in expenditures over five years to help families with autism. We must bring hope to all of those who deal with the hardships of this disorder and we must develop a national strategy on autism.

I am proud to share with you that we have formed an all-party subcommittee to address neurological disease and to bring researchers, stakeholders and decision-makers together on ASD, MS, ALS, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, all of which are major neurological diseases that cross all ages.

One in three, or 10 million, Canadians will be affected by a neurological or psychiatric disease, disorder or injury at some point in their lives. NeuroScience Canada estimates that about $100 million at most is invested in operating costs for neuroscience research in Canada annually. This compares with a burden of disease in the order of $20 billion to $30 billion, a ratio of 200 to 1.

This past April, Yoko Ono unveiled Promise, a mural created especially for World Autism Awareness Day. It consisted of 67 pieces, representing the 67 million autism sufferers around the world. The pieces were to be broken apart and auctioned off individually. With each winning bid came the promise that when the cure for autism is finally found, all the pieces will be reassembled for a day. Promise, just like World Autism Awareness Day, symbolizes the coming together of society around people with autism and the unfinished work of the world in finding the causes and cure for the disorder.

Let us keep the promise. Autism speaks: it is time to listen.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta


Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I do not profess to be an expert on many things and I certainly am not an expert on autism, but I would profess to being an expert on being a parent of a child with autism. I have a 14-year-old son, named Jaden, who has autism. He was diagnosed 11.5 years ago with autism. I am not going to get into the numbers and the definitions. I will let others do that and it is a very important part of the debate here. Instead, I want to talk about why autism awareness is so important and why the bill is so important.

Before I do that though, I will recognize a few people. I would like to recognize Senator Munson for putting forward this important bill and the work that he has done in terms of raising autism awareness. I would definitely like to recognize our Minister of Health who, on April 2, declared that from now on each April 2 will be known as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.

I would like to recognize colleagues from all parties who have shown an interest in my son and asked me many questions about autism, and have come to me for advice in terms of dealing with constituents who approach them on this issue. Most of all, of course, I would like to thank Jaden and recognize my son for all that he means to me. I would also like to take the opportunity to recognize my wife, Debi, and my daughter, Jenae, for the work that they do in holding down the fort at home while I am here working on behalf of my constituents.

Why is autism awareness so important? There are many reasons. First, because early diagnosis is critical. In the past decade, we have seen that knowledge about autism and related disorders has increased tremendously. We have seen that more early diagnosis, treatment and support at those early stages is absolutely essential. We need not only parents to be aware but for doctors and the public at large to be aware of this disorder, what it looks like and recognize it early.

In our experience, when Jaden was 18 months old, we remember taking him to the doctor to express some concerns about the fact that he was not talking and there some other behaviours that we noticed. At that point, just over a decade ago, even the doctor who looked at him said, “Oh, he's a boy and some boys talk late”. We have heard similar stories from many parents who eventually had diagnoses of autism.

It was actually a cousin of ours who mentioned, when Jaden was about 21 months old, that maybe he had autism, that some characteristics looked familiar. The cousin knew someone with autism and thought maybe that was the case. That was the first time it was brought up to us.

Thankfully, at two years, we did recognize that Jaden had autism and at two-and-a-half he was actually officially diagnosed at the Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton, and we were able to start treatment. Many of the people who have spoken to the bill have talked about the importance of that early treatment and quality treatment. We were able to get that treatment and Jaden's pediatrician several years later commented that Jaden was an entirely different kid because of the treatment he received at those early ages.

Another reason why the bill is important, why autism awareness is important, and probably the most important reason in our view is because families need support. I am not just talking about the support of the medical community. There has been talk of the treatment challenges across the country, but I am talking about support in terms of understanding, the things we do not see. When families are dealing with autism, oftentimes we do not see that 24/7 stress they are under. We do not see the knife jammed in the door jamb at night because they are concerned that their child might decide to go swimming and it is mapped out in his or her head where the swimming pool is and he or she knows how to get there, but the child has no concept of danger, traffic, or nighttime. If the child decides to go swimming, he or she might just go swimming.

We do not see the times that the child wakes up in the middle of the night. In our experience, it was often about five or six times a night that Jaden would wake up and we would be alerted by a bang on the door. Jaden was nonverbal so he communicated by saying “bah bah bah” before he threw himself on the bed in the middle of the night. This would happen five or six times over the course of the night. I am not sure how the translators will translate “bah bah bah”, but now we are down to two or three times in the night that he often wakes up, but there is this stress that is caused in terms of lack of sleep and the need to be on high alert all the time for the child's safety because the child does not understand or recognize danger the way other kids do all day long.

One time we had an incident. We were at a friend's house who had a swimming pool. Jaden was about five or six years old and he stepped out onto the tarp of the swimming pool. He did not really understand that the tarp was not solid and he tried to walk out on top of it. He loves swimming, so there will be lots of swimming stories here.

Then there are the things that the public does see but does not necessarily understand. My colleague, who previously spoke, talked about kids throwing themselves down onto the floor in the middle of a grocery store. These are six- or seven-year-old kids who look like every other kid, but throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store can be very hard for parents.

There was a situation in Edmonton not that long ago, about a year and a half ago, where a child threw a tantrum and was squealing and making a lot of noise in a restaurant. The restaurant manager came to them and asked them to leave because they were being disruptive, not understanding that the child had autism or not understanding what that was.

There is another funny story actually with Jaden, just to kind of illustrate the sort of lack of filters, in terms of conduct, or lack of barriers. When Jaden was about eight years old, we went to a McDonald's in the West Edmonton Mall between Christmas and New Year's. The place was jam-packed. There were about 50 people in line and about 20 people buzzing around behind the counter, working. It was probably one of the busiest McDonald's I have ever seen. We were picking up food for a bunch of other people, but it was Jaden and I in the restaurant. We got to the front and got our food. I was walking out with my hands full so I could not hold Jaden's hand like I normally would. We got about halfway out of the restaurant and all of a sudden Jaden got a big smile on his face, started giggling, turned around and ran, keeping in mind he was seven years old, behind the counter, all the way across behind the counter, with all these people starting at him, reached into the bin where they held crushed Smarties, grabbed a handful of crushed Smarties and shoved them into his mouth. He had Smarties all over his face and the biggest smile, as everybody stood aghast at this scene that they had just witnessed of this pretty normal looking seven-year-old running behind and filling his face full of Smarties.

However, not all the stories are so funny. It is very difficult, for example, for kids with autism to express more abstract feelings. We had one situation around that same time where Jaden had got hurt. He had actually fallen down the stairs. He came upstairs and his head had been cut pretty badly and he was bleeding pretty badly. We had no idea what had actually happened. All we knew was that his head was bleeding badly, but he could not explain, he could not articulate. Even though he can talk on a computer or write things down, it is hard for him to express things that are more abstract. As parents, we can imagine how difficult that is when our children might be suffering from something like the flu or a sore stomach or something like that, and they cannot possibly explain what it is that is causing the pain they have.

These are things that parents of kids with autism deal with every day.

I have not even spoken about the challenges that parents of adults with autism face, wondering what is going to happen to that child of theirs when they are not there any more to take care of them, and how heartbreaking that is. It is something that we think about, even at this stage in our lives, fairly regularly.

I want to talk a bit about the people who go above and beyond, the people who get autism awareness, who express that awareness. I want to thank people who take their time to, in our case, encourage Jaden to get involved in things. He has been involved in hockey. A coach of a tae kwon do class started a class for kids with autism. Even though he did not have any family members, he recognized the potential there. There are cooking classes and things like bowling. Different things where community leaders have had their eyes opened and been made aware of the potential for kids to get involved.

I also want to quickly talk about the opportunity for people with autism to contribute. In Jaden's case, at his school, they have found ways to have him work in the library, putting books away, which is something that he absolutely loves to do and is incredible at.

I see my time is getting very short. I could talk for hours about the need for autism awareness and thank the people who have contributed and enriched our lives. I will close with this. I want to recognize and thank all of the people out there with autism spectrum disorders, the family members and friends who live with this disorder every single minute of every single day. God bless them.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
See context


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to follow the member from Edmonton. I have had the honour and privilege of meeting his son. He is a great kid. I have also met hundreds of other children with autism across this country. They are all beautiful, wonderful children. The member of Parliament from Edmonton's son has the right parents. They are beautiful parents and they are doing everything they can to help him. Jaden is very lucky to have the parents he has.

Beyond the love of the parents, we need the support of governments. We need the provinces and the federal government to work together to develop a national strategy so that it does not matter where one lives in this country. If a child or family member has autism, they should be able to get the help that they need. It should be similar across the country.

We just do not have that right now. Alberta is fortunate enough to have treatment up until the age of 18. In Nova Scotia, we have it starting at six, with a few trial programs here and there. Quebec has its programs as well as Ontario, but there is not a national strategy. We have asked for many years that the federal government and the provinces work together to develop a strategy that allows us to develop the best practices. No matter where people live in this country, if they have a child with autism, they should be able to get the treatment and care that is required in order to assist them.

I want to mention a few people who have been instrumental in my life in raising the cause of autism with me. First, there is Mr. Andrew Kavchak of Ottawa. When I saw him years ago, he was outside here with a sandwich sign, asking that autism be under medicare. I did not know much about the issue at that time, but I learned from him and many others. There is Laurel Gibbons, also of the Ottawa area, whose husband serves in the military. He is away an awful lot and they have a son with autism.

Roxanne Black of Vancouver has two children with autism. I know some military folks from my riding in Eastern Passage. One gentleman has served overseas in many tours of duty. He has a child who is a severe flight risk. As the hon. member indicated, some suffer a lack of speech and some are flight risks. If the crack of a door or window is open, they will take off, not knowing the fear of danger. The only thing they know is that they are going. Whether there are cars on the road or whatever, they are oblivious to that. They will just keep on going. While her husband is serving in the military, that lady back home requires support programs in order to assist her and her family.

Anyone who has met children with autism knows that they are some of the most wonderful, beautiful and gifted children in this entire country. They deserve that opportunity. In fact, I know that the autism pin that people wear is in the shape of a ribbon, but it is actually a puzzle. From what I have heard from medical experts, the objective is that if we can get the puzzle rearranged at a young enough age and if these children are diagnosed early enough, we can assist them to the point where they can live productive lives without much assistance. This is the key.

One system does not fit all children or all families. We know that. However, we have a caring and compassionate Canada. I honestly believe, our party believes, and I am sure that most members of Parliament also believe that if we put our heads together, we can come up with a system that is cost effective, accountable, and does what we would like it to do. We can provide a national system in this country for the treatment of autism.

I am going to highlight this again. I have mentioned his name many times in the House, but there is a young man here named Josh Bortolotti, who is from the Ottawa area. I believe he is around 15 years old right now. A few years ago, he was in an Ottawa Life magazine as one of the future people to watch for. Josh Bortolotti is a young man whose younger sister is autistic. He said to me and many people in the House many times that his sister cannot speak for herself, so he was going to do it. That is not bad for a kid who was only 11 years old at that time.

Josh is now 15 and is still fighting the good fight. He is raising the issue and raising funds for autism treatment. This young man will be the next Craig Kielburger, the gentleman who raised the issue of child work slavery around the world. Craig is a dynamic young man and someone to watch out for.

This is something that goes beyond politics. Every one of us knows someone in our ridings who has dealt with autism.

We just heard here in the House of Commons a very eloquent defence by a father standing up for his child. I have heard my colleague from Edmonton speak so eloquently on this issue. Kudos to him and to his wife for raising Jaden and giving him every opportunity they can possibly give their child.

Other families are not as blessed, which why we need a national strategy to ensure that autism is not put in the closet and ignored because we do not have the funds for it. The reality is that we do have the funds for it.

I have said it many times, and I honestly believe that if we could get together in a non-partisan way and work with our provincial cousins and first nations groups we could develop a strategy so that no matter where people live in this country, if they have a child with autism the child will get first class treatment and the family will get the best services possible to assist them.

On behalf of our party and all the people in my riding who I represent, I thank the member for Charlottetown for moving this particular motion and all those who spoke on this important issue. It is one of the issues that transcends politics. Hopefully, we will see the day when we can have a national autism strategy in this country.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.
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Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today on this very important discussion of Senator Munson's Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

In my background in health care as a community based nurse, I remember parents visiting with newborn children and their delight and excitement as they welcomed these new additions into their families. I also remember visiting with parents over time as their children normally would start speaking. The parents would be concerned about the development of their children when they realized the very difficult and unique challenges they would need to deal with in terms of their children being diagnosed with autism.

The other experience that stands out very prominently in my mind was of a particular child who was not diagnosed until he was a teenager. I had known his mother quite well over the years and she would say, “God gave me patience and then God gave me Mark”. She was just amazing. However, it was not until her child was in his late teens that he was diagnosed and got special support. I have to wonder how much easier it might have been for her and Mark and how much easier his life might have been had he managed to have an earlier diagnosis and perhaps support earlier in his life.

The Chris Rose Therapy Centre for Autism in Kamloops is a centre for children who have been most profoundly affected by this disease. The caregivers and the parents are amazing. It is a very challenging circumstance and the passion, commitment and work the caregivers and parents do is absolutely amazing.

I will now focus on some of the things the government is doing. We know autism affects Canadians across this country, impacting the lives of those affected, as well as family members and beyond. Among children under the age of four, autism is the third most commonly reported disabling chronic condition, after asthma or severe allergies and attention deficit disorder. Among Canadians aged 15 and older, the prevalence of autism is not known, but approximately 5 out of every 1,000 report being disabled due to developmental disability, which would include autism, among other conditions.

The actions of the government to improve the lives of those affected by autism are part of our ongoing commitment to safeguard the health and safety of all Canadians. The Government of Canada recognizes that there is a lack of evidence and consensus regarding the nature, cause and treatments for autism, and that this is a barrier to any strategic undertaking by government and stakeholders to address autism. It is for that reason that the federal government is supporting a variety of activities and initiatives to improve knowledge and awareness of autism.

For example, in declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, the government has demonstrated its commitment to increasing awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder.

In addition, the federal government provided funding in 2007-08 to the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, CAIRN. This funding supports the network's excellent work of disseminating new knowledge about autism and has improved access to quality information on autism for families affected by autism and for those providing care.

We also have provided addition support this year to the Oxford Centre for Child Studies to further fund CAIRN, to conduct a survey among autism stakeholders to identify research priorities and to host a conference this October. This conference provided an ideal opportunity for all stakeholders and scientists to come together to pool knowledge and experience in the development of updated research priorities for autism. We understand the response to this was positive.

Research has been a strong priority in the federal government's work to support Canadians with autism, as noted by my colleague. CIHR's Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is supporting autism-related research and is working with partners in the autism community to set research priorities, to coordinate action and to accelerate the speed at which knowledge is translated into improved health for Canadians with autism and their families.

Health Canada also plays an important role in this government's activities to address autism. The strategic policy branch of Health Canada is designated as the autism spectrum disorder's lead for actions related to autism at the federal health portfolio level. In designating a portfolio lead, the government has demonstrated that it takes the issue of autism seriously, and we will continue to do so.

Another pivotal action undertaken by this government is autism surveillance. I will talk a little bit about this today. Surveillance is the systematic and ongoing collection of data about diagnoses of a disorder in a population over time. Its purpose is to enable action to minimize the negative effects of the disorder in question.

Effective surveillance requires high-quality screening and a comprehensive surveillance program to manage the results. The accurate and up to date information on autism in Canada, which effective surveillance can provide, is essential to implementing an effective response. Quality information on the distribution and impacts of autism in communities across the country allows public resources to be put to use where they will make the most difference.

The importance of the autism surveillance is outlined by the Senate Committee On Social Affairs, Science And Technology, chaired by the hon. Art Eggleton, in its final report on the enquiry on the funding and treatment of autism. The report, entitled Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis, recommended the stakeholders be consulted regarding autism surveillance and cited a call for national surveillance of autism.

The government heard the call for better surveillance information on autism in Canada and has taken action to strengthen this crucial link in the autism chain.

Today we have heard from fathers and from everyone who has been touched and impacted. We are in support of this important initiative. We are also hearing that the government is taking some good action on some very important things, such as the surveillance and research that will be absolutely critical.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

November 23rd, 2009 / 11:55 a.m.
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Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I first want to take this opportunity to thank every member of Parliament who spoke in favour of this bill. Although we do not necessarily agree on everything that happens in this House, I believe we agree this is a major issue facing Canadian families.

As has been pointed out by other members, this bill originated in the Senate and was championed by Senator Jim Munson. I would like to take this opportunity to commend and congratulate Senator Munson for the time and energy he put into this important piece of legislation. Speaking of persistence, Senator Munson introduced the bill three times, but because of elections and prorogations, it was delayed. He certainly is persistent and needs to be congratulated.

As has been pointed out by other speakers, who I submit are more knowledgeable than I am on this particular issue, presently in Canada approximately one in 165 Canadian children is living with some form of autism. That means that one in every 165 Canadian families is dealing with the financial and emotional hardship of caring for a child with autism. These families need and deserve the support of the federal and provincial governments and the community at large.

It must be pointed out that this bill does not provide that type of help. The most fundamental function of this bill is that it reiterates the importance of raising public awareness about autism spectrum disorders. The benefits of public awareness certainly cannot be denied or understated.

As Canadians, we have to realize that people affected by autism are not just statistics; they are not numbers on a page. We heard that from the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, who eloquently spoke of his experiences. Rather, they are our friends, colleagues, co-workers and neighbours. That reality deserves our attention.

This bill is a reminder to us in the House and all Canadians that there is much more we can do as parliamentarians and lawmakers to address this alarming national health crisis, and I underline the word “health”. Right now, there exists no national strategy for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. That means that treatment availability and financial support vary tremendously depending on where one lives in Canada.

In certain provinces, autism treatments, including applied behavioural analysis and intensive behavioural intervention, are covered under the provincial medicare program and are more readily available, especially, as has been pointed out by others, for those who are diagnosed early where treatments are much more effective. However, in other provinces of the country where facilities or trained caregivers are limited, families have to pay out of their own pockets for this treatment. In some cases the treatment is not even in the health envelope; it is in the social services envelope.

Some families, as has been pointed out by others, can expect to pay upwards of $65,000 each year for treatment, a financial burden that no family in Canada should have to endure. That unfairness does not reflect my view of the values that we have as Canadians.

For those who are interested in following this issue, I point out, as the previous speaker did, the excellent Senate report entitled, “Pay Now or Pay Later”, which discusses this particular issue.

To bring us back to the bill we are presently considering, I see this legislation currently before us as an important stepping stone in this process. Hopefully we will achieve a national autism strategy designed to protect and support the families and those living with autism.

Earlier this year the Minister of Health recognized April 2 as world autism awareness day. I applaud the minister's efforts, but at the same time, I remind the House that there is no force of law behind such a declaration. The only way is to formally declare April 2 of each and every year as world autism awareness day, as has been done by 192 other countries in the world following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In closing, I urge every member of the House to think seriously about this bill, to consider those constituents of theirs who are facing autism each and every day of their lives and to move Canada forward in the fight to better the lives of Canadians across the country who are dealing with autism spectrum disorders.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
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Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

moved that Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to move this bill. This bill originated in the Senate and I am pleased to continue the work in the House. I want to publicly thank Senator Jim Munson for guiding this bill through the Senate. I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, for seconding the bill.

The purpose of the bill is rather simple. It is to raise awareness about autism, a neurological condition that affects an increasing number of families in Canada and around the world. According to some reports, autism affects more children worldwide than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Published reports put the rate of children living with autism at one in 165. Recent reports that originated in the United States put that number quite a bit higher.

It affects all races, all regions and all walks of life. To a certain extent, autism isolates those who have it from the world around them. Many different therapies are available, but the waiting lists are extremely long. Many of the accepted methodologies are partially covered by our health care system in some instances while in other instances they are covered by another envelope of government altogether outside of the health care system.

While there is much to learn about autism, we do know, and this is an uncontested premise, that the earlier the treatment can begin, the more successful that treatment tends to be. When people with autism do not receive timely treatment, it means that they are denied the tools they need to succeed and participate in and contribute to society.

Both waiting lists and costs are barriers. Treatment for autism can cost up to $65,000 per annum. Each province has a different approach to funding treatment and far too many families have to refinance existing loans, find second jobs, or make other sacrifices to ensure that their children receive the necessary medical treatment they need. There is no consistency across Canada and I submit that there is no equity or fairness either.

Untreated autism can lead to a lifetime of exclusion and often results in individuals being placed in institutions at a cost far greater than the treatment would be. A year or two ago, the Senate wrote and published an excellent committee report entitled “Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis”. I urge every member in the House and those watching on TV to read that excellent report.

Financial strain, fatigue and constant worry for their child erode the mental and physical health of parents. Parents need our help. This is an issue that cries out for a response from the federal government, our 10 provincial governments, and the three territorial governments.

I could go on about the lack of a federal strategy, the lack of necessary research, et cetera. However, I will stick to the bill.

This bill talks about raising awareness. Let us make it absolutely clear that today will not immediately change the reality of one person affected by autism. They will still have to fight to get treatments and make sacrifices to pay for these treatments, but if Canada were to acknowledge their reality, even for one day, those families might no longer feel so alone.

On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, people with autism and their families will feel the respect and admiration they deserve from their fellow citizens. To a limited extent, such a day will show support, but it will also send a message about autism to those who do not know about this condition.

It will be an opportunity for people to learn about autism and recognize that there are many families in their communities living with autism, including neighbours, friends and colleagues who deserve to have their reality acknowledged and supported by governments at both levels.

In the United States, I submit, much more is being done to address autism. The combating autism act of 2006 authorizes nearly $1 billion in expenditures over five years to help families with autism.

This landmark single-disease legislation recognizes autism for the national health crisis it is. This funding will double expenditures on existing programs, including a significant increase in spending for research.

President Barack Obama has promised to support increased funding for autism research, treatment, screening, public awareness and support services. Until Canada gets to the same level of support, let us at least recognize that autism is serious and affects a growing number of families. Let us as a House declare April 2 of each year World Autism Awareness Day.

All children have the right to succeed, and as parliamentarians we have the responsibility to ensure that all Canadian children have the necessary tools to do so. It is clear that this issue goes well beyond party lines and connects Canadians from coast to coast, from all regions and all walks of life.

Many colleagues in the House have been very helpful on this particular issue and have supported this and other bills that have come forward. I would like to again thank Senator Munson, and the hon. members for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Sudbury, Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont and Verchères—Les Patriotes for their admirable work.

In closing, I want to remind hon. members that Canada has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These international conventions commit us to take action to see that children with disabilities enjoy a full life in conditions that ensure dignity, self-respect, self-reliance and full participation.

Let all hon. members take one more step forward and join the 192 other countries of the world that have made April 2 World Autism Awareness Day. Autism can no longer be ignored in this country. More needs to be done for those whose lives are affected by this disorder.

I hope, as a member of Parliament, everyone will support the bill, and I hope also that as members of Parliament, Senators and Canadians, we can work collectively to ensure that Canada will soon have a national autism strategy.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
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André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

This initiative follows that of the UN, which, in 2008, proclaimed April 2 as World Autism Day in order to encourage families affected by this disease to call for the services to which they are entitled. In Quebec, we already have Autism Month—the month of April—while in Canada it is the month of October. We are right in the middle of Autism Month. It works out well that we in this House can discuss Bill S-210, introduced by a Liberal senator.

From the outset, certain aspects of the preamble of Bill S-210 are inconsistent with the constitutional rights of Quebec and the provinces. Even though this is 2009, even though the Bloc Québécois has been here since 1993 and even though before the Bloc Québécois arrived a good number of MPs from Quebec from various parties defended the interests of Quebec in the House, we have always talked about federal interference in provincial jurisdictions. It seems to go in one ear and out the other and again today we must explain, and explain again, how important it is for the government to respect provincial jurisdictions.

We are therefore of the opinion that any reference to a national health system, which is an area under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, should be removed from the bill, and we wish to propose amendments to Bill S-210 to that effect.

However, we do support the basic premise of the bill. Autism spectrum disorders are affecting more and more children around the world, so it is important for families to have access to a growing range of appropriate services. If the federal government wants to invest money in health care, we will not stand in its way. But the trouble starts when it tries to impose conditions. We all know that this matter falls under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction and that Quebec is in charge in this area. The government should therefore transfer the necessary funds, and Quebec will develop its own policies, just as it has always done so well.

A World Autism Awareness Day is a good idea, not only because it will raise public awareness of this complex syndrome, but also because it will encourage people to help improve thousands of families' quality of life.

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about some examples from my riding. One of the prime examples is an organization dedicated to the well-being of families with autistic children or children with learning disabilities. That organization is the Centre de stimulation L'Envol, a community organization that opened its doors in Victoriaville in 1996 and offers stimulation and recreation activities for children aged 0 to 12 with communication disorders.

L'Envol's mission is to promote the availability of a complete range of special services to support families and help children with developmental disorders reach their full potential.

In 1994-95, Marguerite Bourgeois, a mother of two children with serious communication disorders, had no access to special services. She got an idea, and she decided that it was up to her to take charge and open a centre in Victoriaville to help families like hers. She got parents together, developed a plan for an early stimulation centre, and presented the plan to various community partners and the regional health and social services authority.

Thanks to the financial support of various social organizations and private donations, the Centre de stimulation L'Envol opened its doors in Victoriaville in September 1996, as I said.

I will give two short definitions to illustrate the specific nature of L'Envol's client base. I think that pretty much every member of this House can think of a number of people around them, perhaps even in their families, who have children with this sort of communication disorder. One cannot be unaware of it.

Pervasive developmental disorders include several qualitative impairments ranging from mild to severe in three developmental areas: social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and stereotyped patterns of behaviour and interests. Autism is the most well known.

Dysphasia is a pervasive impairment affecting verbal communication which is characterized by a slow and atypical development of the power of comprehension and use of language. How severely individual aspects of speech are affected will vary from one child to the next and even in the same child. To varying degrees, dysphasia disrupts verbal communication, socialization, learning in school and the performance of certain tasks. This gives an idea of the areas in which the Centre de stimulation L'Envol in Victoriaville does its work.

Each region of Quebec has several organizations sharing the same goals and working to help families and parents. On l'Envol's website, which I visited this morning, we can find several interesting testimonies from families living with this hardship, although these testimonies do show that there is hope. That is why it is important not only to raise public awareness, but also for the public to make financial contributions to help these people.

I will take for example the testimony of two individuals whom I know well: Geneviève Poudrier and Guy Désilets, of Victoriaville. They have one child and they share their experience on L'Envol's website. Let me quote them briefly.

We were very worried when we learned that Benjamin [their child] was not developing like all the other children. At 32 months, he did not say a word and played alone, lining up his cars, his sausages or his pieces of toast. We put a lot of energy into giving him what he needed: stimulation. Now, he says simple sentences, knows his letters and loves finding words and reading short books. Benjamin plays with his friends at day care and gives us a warm welcome when we go to pick him up.

We can see from this testimony from the parents that things were very difficult for them initially. It must be very hard for parents to see that their child is not developing in the same way as his friends. But a little later, with stimulation, thanks in part to L'Envol, the child made remarkable progress. Obviously, every child will progress at his own pace, but without stimulation, the parents would not have gotten the results they did.

Guy Désilets, Benjamin's father, is an officer with the Sûreté du Québec in the Arthabaska RCM, in my region, and he decided to get involved. He organized a golf tournament for police in the region to raise funds for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. Year after year, his golf tournament has raised more than $15,000 for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. It is truly a phenomenal success. L'Envol has used the money to replenish its stock of games for the children and to keep the cost of its services as low as possible. I would like to pay tribute to police officer Guy Désilets for his excellent initiative.

Since 2003, and I will conclude in a moment, Quebec has had an action plan for those affected by autism. We have to continue moving in that direction. We have to further encourage governments to adopt policies like the one adopted by the Government of Quebec.

Bill S-210 opens the door to a national strategy, which poses a problem, as I was saying earlier. However, with the necessary amendments, the Bloc Québécois would have no problem supporting such a measure. The need to continue building awareness stems from the fact that autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders currently affect about 60 children per 10,000, while in 1980, it affected 10 per 10,000. It affects all children equally, regardless of social conditions, race and ethnicity. It affects people from every social class. That is why I am asking the members of this House to carefully consider Bill S-210.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 1:45 p.m.
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Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, again it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the New Democrats to lend our support to this important measure introduced by the Senate, Bill S-210, to enact world autism day from a Canadian perspective.

I want to go very briefly into my own personal history on this particular subject at hand. As few years ago, I was walking from my office into the Centre Block and I noticed a man by the Peace Tower flame and he had a sandwich board sign on him saying “Autism in medicare now”.

I will be honest that I was very ignorant about what he was trying to say so I asked him what his concern was. That then developed into a very nice friendship. That person's name is Mr. Andrew Cavachuk. Mr. Cavachuk has done yeoman's work in trying to raise the level of awareness, not just for his own son but for all children across the country who have autism spectrum disorder.

Autism comes in various forms and different ranges, from Asperger syndrome, to flight risks. to non-verbal and so on.

In my travels throughout my own riding, I found a fair number of people who have children who are autistic. One personal friend of mine in Vancouver has two children who are autistic. Anyone who has met children with autism find they are some of the most beautiful, kind, wonderful and the most loving children one could ever possibly meet. What their families require is support. They need support from the federal government.

This is why we moved our own national autism day. We presented a bill before the House of Commons which has not come up for debate in terms of enshrining that autism is in the medicare system. We do not want the federal government to tell the provinces what to do.We know that the delivery of health care is a provincial responsibility. However, what we have said over and over again is that there is no reason why the provinces need to reinvent the wheel.

That is why we have asked repeatedly for a national autism strategy in Canada. We know there is a patchwork quilt of efforts across the country. In Nova Scotia, a handful of children get assistance, whereas in Alberta I believe the family can receive assistance from the government for children up to 18 years of age.

No matter where someone lives in the country, children who have autism should be able to receive the care, treatment and support they need right across the country.

I am sure some members remember a few years ago the very emotional press conference in Toronto where a couple of people had to make the decision to leave Ontario, their birthplace and the place where they raised their children, because their child had autism and Alberta could provide better care than the province of Ontario.

As a society, no one should have to live through that. We are a much better society than that.

What we have asked the federal government to do is to coordinate a strategy--I know the Bloc does not like hearing this word--a national strategy. What we would like to do is bring the health ministers and the experts together, along with the federal government and devise a strategy so that every province, territory and first nations reserves can have the expertise and the information at their hands to develop the support systems to assist these families and their children.

Autism was first described to me by a young boy named Josh Bortolotti who is from Ottawa. For those of us who have known Josh for a long time, people should watch out for this young man because one day he could be the prime minister of this country. His sister has autism and he made it his personal life's crusade, when he was 12 years old, to fight and to stand up for his sister because she could not do it herself. Josh Bortolotti is a tremendously fine young man. Every year he asks us for pledges for his cause to raise funds for autism.

If young children like this can show us in the House of Commons the leadership that is required, then my hat is off to Josh Bortolotti, his family and especially his sister because I know one day she will get the help that she needs.

It is not just for the children. It is also for the parents. Many parents do not understand the concerns of autism. They do not understand what their children are going through until sometimes it is too late.

It was described to me that autism is like a puzzle. This is why applied behaviour analysis and IBI treatment are so very important, to get these children the minute that they are diagnosed and to work with them through repetition over and over again to develop their brains so that they can lead productive lives.

When we had press conferences a few years ago, we heard from specialists from Quebec that if a child is diagnosed at age two with autism, and that child and the family are worked with intensively for four years then that child can go to a regular school without any teaching assistance at all. That is the kind of investment in these children that we need. The unfortunate part is we do not believe that the provinces will ever have enough money to do this on their own. This is why we think it is imperative that the national government work with the provinces, territories and first nations reserves to ensure that we do not reinvent the wheel, to ensure that no matter where people live in this country, children and families with autism can get the help they deserve and most importantly, get the support they have.

At last count, I understand, there are close to 400,000 people in this country who have some form of autism and that number is rising rapidly. I will never forget the time Hillary Clinton, now a senator in the United States, offered a $200 million aid package for various research centres, for various states and various schools in this regard, because the national government of the United States understands that this is a very serious issue. It put a lot of federal money into this issue in order to assist families and to assist researchers in developing, hopefully one day, a complete understanding of what causes autism and to see how we can mitigate it in the future.

While we are working toward that, the people with autism in Canada need to know. I spoke to the hon. Minister of State for Democratic Reform who used to be the parliamentary secretary to the minister of health. We all worked together collaboratively a couple of years ago to bring a motion forward in the House which was adopted by all of us on that type of strategy. Unfortunately, over two years later we are still talking about it. We do not have a national strategy.

We are asking once again, with great respect to the government, because we know that government members have people in their constituencies who have this concern, and we know members of the government and the Conservative Party care about this issue as much as anyone on this side does. I ask if we can work in collaboration, if the House can really work together as it has done for other items over the years, such as the veterans' charter, to form and develop a national strategy for the development and treatment of autism, to help those children and their families. Then world autism day will be more than just a symbolic gesture or a date on the calendar. It will actually give these people hope, and hope is what they strive for. This is what keeps them going every day.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many children with autism. I have worked with organizations like FEAT of B.C. which is Families for Early Autism Treatment. I have worked with Mr. Cavachuk, Laurel Gibbons and people in my province of Nova Scotia who ask that autism be part of the national medicare package. But while we are working toward that goal, we need to make it loud and clear to these people that they have the full support of not only the Senate but also the House of Commons so that when world autism day becomes a reality, not only can we bring awareness of this issue to our country and the rest of the world, but maybe we could assist those researchers, those practitioners, and those families, and most importantly, give those people a hand up so they can lead productive lives.

If we do that, it will be a great day in the House of Commons and a great day for all Canadians. I say God bless to all the children with autism and to their families, and may the bill pass fairly quickly.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.
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Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to this legislation and to second it. I appreciate the work done by the hon. member for Charlottetown to bring the bill to the House. I would also like to thank the Senate for the great work it has done on this legislation.

A day to mark autism awareness has never been more important here in Canada.

If we go back just six years ago, autism was not recognized as the problem it is today. A 2003 study estimated that approximately 1 in 450 Canadians suffered from one of the various forms of autism. That would be about 67,000 Canadians across Canada.

The worst thing about this mysterious condition, however, is that this number is higher among children and it is increasing every year. In fact, the Autism Society of Canada reported there has been a steep rise in the number of cases in the three provinces that monitor these numbers closely: Saskatchewan, Quebec and my own province of British Columbia. A children's hospital study in Montreal put the number at around 1 in every 147 children. According to a study in the U.S., it used to be around 1 in every 150 kids but now the number may be closer to 1 in 100.

Such a big change; such a huge increase in only six years.

As a Senate study makes clear, the reasons for this increase are difficult to pinpoint. In many respects, it could be because the very definition of autism has now become much wider. It is true there is now more exposure in the media for such mysterious forms as Asperger syndrome.

The truth is that we would not have to knock on many doors in almost every neighbourhood in Canada before we would find a family that is now trying to cope with autism. That family may be struggling with the mysteries of autism and the huge toll it can take on their day to day lives.

In fact, within my own community, Louise Witt and Amber Himmelright have quite a lot to say about what the Government of Canada is doing about autism, or should I say not doing.

When the Conservatives first came into office they talked a good game about a national autism strategy. They knew what Canadian families were saying about the kind of sacrifice autism required.

I have three children of my own and I can tell members that I feel fortunate that I am one of the few Canadians who might not be faced with a threat of personal bankruptcy if just either my boy, Arjan, or one of my daughters, Keerat or Joat, was diagnosed. It is not uncommon for families to pay more than $60,000 a year, and that is just for the basic treatment.

The worst thing is that the cost for effective treatment also varies widely from province to province. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be for someone to realize that if he or she lived in another part of the country or if they only had more money their child would get the needed care.

The government has known these facts for some time but, as I said, the government did what it normally does. It leads with communications and then real action limps along later, sometimes much later.

Two years ago, the government announced a website to give families information and $1 million over five years to set up a research chair. There is still no research chair and that website is not much to speak about either.

We could say that the government had to cut back on plans with the state of the deficit being what it is, the deficit it could not see and then denied for as long as it could. Perhaps the government realized it could not fulfill the promise it made to thousands of families across this country who are looking for real leadership and who are waiting for a real plan.

It is a difficult conversation the government must be having with those families now. Louise Witt will say that there are many who must bring professional therapists up from the U.S. because they cannot find these special services in Canada. In my own riding, in all of Surrey and Delta, there are only a handful of trained therapists, and they are overbooked for months in advance as it is.

The worst thing is, whether it is in Surrey or Delta or whether the therapist comes from the states, there is so little health care coverage that the bill breaks the bank anyway.

It is also difficult for the government to talk about other promises on autism, like the stakeholder symposium. Again, as Ms. Witt said, the symposium was held in secret. It was only for hand-picked invitees, those who would probably go easy on the government and downplay the kind of support families need.

All of that does not matter though, because no one can tell us what came out of this symposium anyway. We would be waiting a long time to hear from the government. Maybe it did not like what it heard and is afraid to act upon it.

All of that said, this bill is in some small measure a way to put autism back on the national agenda. If awareness can get people talking, it might get the government to listen.

For the families who are facing bankruptcy, who are forced to put their children in foster homes because they cannot afford the day-to-day support, and for the parents who are trying every possible medical breakthrough they can in the hopes of seeing their children able to cope with this affliction, awareness is only a first step but it is an important one.

That is why I ask all members of Parliament to support this bill.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 2:05 p.m.
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Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to speak to the issue of autism, in light of hon. Senator Munson's Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.

This government recognizes that autism is a serious health and social issue, affecting many Canadian families and individuals from all walks of life, and that more knowledge and awareness of this condition is necessary. That is why the government has committed important resources and funds to autism research and knowledge dissemination. It is also the reason why the federal government has declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.

Over recent years, attention to this condition has been on the rise and, fortunately, so is our knowledge about autism.

In November 2007, the Government of Canada hosted a symposium devoted to the very subject of autism knowledge. This event provided a wonderful opportunity to bring together leading Canadian researchers, policy-makers and people affected by autism to discuss the latest in autism research.

Since the topic being discussed here today is autism awareness, I would like to share some of the key findings and points of view that were offered at the symposium.

Those directly affected by autism contributed many valuable perspectives. Some stressed the importance that autistic individuals be heard and be in charge of their own lives. Many stress the importance of understanding people's capabilities as well as their challenges. A key message, however, is that individuals affected by the condition can and do succeed with the right supports.

Research is recognized as a key enabler of change across a spectrum of different issues and this is also true in relation to autism. The symposium was a venue for a wide variety of Canadian researchers to share their latest findings on this issue. These findings include a growing understanding that genetics play a role in autism and for the first time researchers have been able to show how changes in some genes contribute to autism. Findings also indicate that autism genes may act differently in boys than in girls.

In terms of diagnosis, progress is being made in identifying the early signs of autism. Some of these can be detected by 12 to 18 months of age, allowing for earlier intervention. Symptoms of autism can include impaired communication, difficulty in engaging in interactive play, a lack of eye contact and social smiling and decreased social interest. While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides some insight.

Canadian and international studies 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 also recognized that there was a need to offer supports across the lifespan. Moreover, adults with autism could suffer from co-morbid conditions, which furthers the need for supports.

I hope that by sharing some of these thoughts and findings today, I have contributed in a small way toward increasing awareness of autism. It is clear that much is known about this condition, but equally clear that much remains unknown.

I am confident that as time goes on, the challenges posed by gaps in knowledge and lack of awareness will be overcome. In addition, I hope that in declaring April 2 World Autism Awareness Day, the government has greatly encouraged the exchange of knowledge in order to increase awareness and comprehension of this serious condition.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 2:10 p.m.
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North Vancouver B.C.


Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity today to speak to the issue of autism in light of Bill S-210, respecting world autism awareness day, being sponsored in the House by the hon. member for Charlottetown.

Autism is a health issue that presents lifelong challenges to those affected, as well as to their family members and society as a whole. Having easy access to information and knowing we can trust that information can make a huge difference in the lives of these families. This government wants to ensure that all Canadians have access to the same high quality, evidence-based information on autism.

Because we still do not know what causes autism and need greater understanding of the most effective treatments and interventions, the federal government is pleased to work with partners and stakeholders to promote autism awareness by investing in activities which support a stronger evidence base. This is why the government, in November 2006, announced several new initiatives to strengthen research to enhance our understanding of autism.

First, the federal government has been working toward developing options for autism surveillance. Recognizing that autism surveillance is new globally and may be technically challenging, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with researchers to see what could be done in Canada.

Between November 2007 and May 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada undertook a consultation process to examine options for development of an ASD surveillance program for Canada. As well, in December 2008, the Government of Canada approved funding for Queen's University to expand its existing ASD surveillance system. This activity now includes children in Manitoba, southwestern Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. This is another step toward creating a national surveillance system for ASD.

Second, Health Canada continues to enhance its website on autism. It holds useful information, including links to respected external sources.

Third, this government committed to establishing a chair in autism research and intervention, and our government is hopeful for a successful outcome.

The minister is looking at alternatives that are in keeping with the original intent of this funding. Further, last year the federal government provided funding to the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, CAIRN for short, to translate its acclaimed autism information website into French. Canadians can now log on to the popular and respected site and access French or English summaries of autism research, presented in terminology that is useful to families that need it.

In 2008 this government committed $75,000 over two years to the Offord Centre for Child Studies to support autism research priorities and to host a conference to be held this fall. In addition, the CAIRN website will be further updated in order to offer Canadians access to the most recent autism research available.

Between 2000 and 2008, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, the Government of Canada spent or committed approximately $35.3 million in autism-related research projects. These projects are led by researchers at universities and affiliated teaching hospitals across Canada.

As one of CIHR's 13 institutes, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction is supporting autism-related research and is working with partners in the autism community to set research priorities, reduce duplication and accelerate the translation of knowledge into improved health. For example, CIHR is funding a team, led by Dr. Eric Fombonne from McGill University. The aim of this program is to train the next generation of researchers and uncover the mysteries of autism.

CIHR is also funding the autism research of Dr. Jeanette Holden at Queen's University and her multidisciplinary team of over 60 researchers, clinicians and parents from across Canada and the United States. Dr. Holden's team is examining the causes, origins and effects of autism spectrum disorders and the effects of treatment on persons with autism.

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

Finally, in November 2007, this government hosted a national autism research symposium, which brought together researchers, service providers, policy-makers and those affected by autism to share knowledge and informed research priorities.

This government is confident that enhanced knowledge will lead to real results. Although we have made great strides in increasing the knowledge and awareness, there is still much to be done.

Through our activities, the federal government is contributing to increased awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their families.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 2:15 p.m.
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South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia


Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise to speak on this important issue today.

Hon. Senator Munson's bill, Bill S-210, respecting World Autism Awareness Day, is an important issue that for far too many years has been overlooked by Canadians and misunderstood by them. In the last decade, especially in the least two years certainly, our government has brought autism to the forefront and recognized the importance of increased research and dollars to help families with autism.

Our government recognizes that autism is a serious health and social issue, affecting many Canadian families and individuals from all walks of life and that more increased awareness of this condition is necessary. That is why this government has committed important resources and funds to autism research and knowledge decimation.

Our government also declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.

We are striving to ensure that all Canadians have access to high-quality, evidence-based information about autism. We are dedicated to working with partners and stakeholders in order to better comprehend what causes autism and how we can better coordinate the most effective treatments and interventions. We also work with our partners to promote autism awareness by investing in activities that support a stronger evidence base.

We know about autism. There is a growing understanding that genetics play a role in autism. For the first time, researchers have been able to show how changes in some genes contribute to autism. Other proof indicates that autism genes may act differently in boys than in girls.

Progress is also being made in identifying the early signs of autism. Some signs can be detected by 12 to 18 months of age. As one of my hon. colleagues mentioned earlier, this allows for earlier intervention.

Let me tell members about some of the signs, as mentioned earlier. They can include impaired communication, difficulty in engaging in interactive play, a lack of eye contact and social smiling and decreased social interest. These are but a few of the examples of early diagnosis.

Evidencing Canadian and international studies show that autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, are more common than previously believed. We should remember this in the context of improved diagnostic techniques, better reporting and a broader definition of autism. It is also recognized that adults with autism also have a need for support throughout their life. They may also suffer from secondary illnesses that may also require medical follow up.

One question that comes to mind is government action.

We were pleased to announce, in November 2006, several new initiatives to improve ongoing research to enhance our understanding of autism.

First, we have been working toward developing options for autism surveillance. Between November 2007 and May 2008, a consultation process was put in place to examine options for the development of an autism spectrum disorder surveillance program for Canada.

Following that, in December 2008, the Government of Canada approved funding for Queen's University to expand its existing ASD surveillance system. We are happy to say that the program now includes children in Manitoba, southwestern Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Our government continues to update the Health Canada website on autism. On it, people can find useful information, including links to respected expert website.

Last year, our government provided funding to the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, or CAIRN, in order that it could translate its acclaimed autism information website into French. Canadians can now log on to this respected site and access French or English summaries of autism research that are easy to use and family friendly.

Last year our government committed $75,000 over two years to support autism research priorities and to host a conference that was held last week. In addition, the CAIRN website will be further updated in order to offer Canadians access to the most recent autism research available.

Since the early two thousands, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have spent approximately $35.3 million in autism-related research projects. These projects are led by researchers at university and affiliated teaching hospitals across Canada. That $35.3 million spent in the last decade has probably advanced autism research further in the last 10 years than we have in the previous 50 years. It is extremely important. I certainly commend our government for continuing this research, and I commend the previous government for starting it. This is very important for early intervention and understanding of autism.

As an example, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, a part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is supporting autism-related research. It is working with partners and stakeholders in the autism community in order to set research priorities, avoid duplication, and speed up the translation from knowledge to health.

They are also funding autism research at Queen's University. Experts there are part of a multidisciplinary team of over 60 researchers, clinicians and parents from across Canada and the United States. The Queen's University team is examining the causes, origins and effects of autism spectrum disorders, and the effects of treatment on persons with autism.

Early in its first mandate, the government hosted a national autism research symposium, which brought together researchers, service providers, policy-makers, and those affected by autism to share knowledge and inform research priorities.

I hope that my words today have provided hon. members with the opportunity to see the efforts made by our government toward increasing awareness of autism. We must continue our efforts to improve knowledge and find solutions to those dealing with this condition.

I hope that in declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day will help to highlight the challenges and that it will trigger everyone's level of awareness and comprehension for this serious condition.

The government has reacted to an issue that affects many Canadians. Quite frankly, the importance of having this informed debate in the House of Commons only leads to a further intelligent discussion on this subject. Unfortunately, like many health issues, we have for far too long ignored this important issue. Families have strived to cope with autism on their own. Priority research was not available. There was no safety net available. They did not have a network of individuals they could turn to and they struggled mightily through the years with this very issue.

We are headed in the right direction. We know there is more that needs to be done. I certainly appreciate the work this government and other governments have done so far, and at the end of the day will lead to working right across the country with autistic members of families, and help them to live more full and fruitful lives.

World Autism Awareness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2009 / 2:25 p.m.
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Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to speak very briefly about one of the most terrible conditions that can strike a child and family. I first learned about autism at an intellectual level. From reading about Temple Grandin, who is a professor at a university in Colorado and suffers from mild autism, I learned what it might be like to experience.

She has written a book describing what it is like and how she has conducted her life. She gives a bit of a picture about the kinds of shutters, walls, doors and barriers to communication that the condition of autism places around people. It is a fascinating book. She has gone on to tremendous success and has provided the world with a view of autism that helps to expose a little bit of the mystery of why children who are so bright, lively and intelligent seem to withdraw from the rest of the world, and what it is like being inside that little cell they get trapped in, where they are unable to communicate or express feelings that nevertheless exist.

It is a fascinating way of exploring what the world of autism is like. In terms of actually experiencing what it is like for those who are family members, I had that experience working here on Parliament Hill. Leaving the Hill every day a few years ago, I used to notice that there was always a man there at lunch time. He would come up wearing a sandwich board with a motto about the importance of autism.

Those of us who work and spend a lot of time up here sometimes wind up getting to know the protestors who are here frequently. This man was a public servant who, during his lunch hours, would come and protest on Parliament Hill because his son was autistic. The experience of having a son facing autism, and the lack of funding and support for the early onset treatment that he and his wife felt was necessary were destroying them financially.

They recognized that it was destroying others financially. They wanted to draw attention to the plight of parents in their position. I had the chance to chat with this man, whose name was Andrew Kavchak, and learn about some of the terrible emotional and financial costs that can be imposed on a family that has a child suffering from this terrible disease.

I mention both of these examples because they are both examples of individuals trying to draw to our attention the importance of dealing with autism. This is what Bill S-210 attempts to do. It attempts to draw further attention to the condition of autism on the understanding that it is only when we as a society realize how severe and devastating this illness can be that we as a society will be able to focus the attention upon the condition necessary to allow us to overcome it.

We must mitigate the circumstances for those who suffer from autism, those who live in families that have been affected by autism, and those in the future who should have a reasonable expectation that we will find a way of ensuring that other children and families do not fall into the trap of autism.

Madam Speaker, I see that you are indicating to me that my time is up. In conclusion, I do think that this is a worthwhile initiative and I am glad to support it.