Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to stand up today to speak to the bill regarding autism awareness. It is an excuse for me to spend 10 minutes talking about my son, Jaden, who is 15 years old and has autism.
Before I do that, though, I want to express my thanks. I could spend 10 minutes thanking people, but I will limit it to a few specific people. I will start with the Minister of Health, who declared a couple of years ago that April 2 would be recognized as World Autism Awareness Day. I also want to thank Senator Jim Munson, who has taken a non-partisan approach to this issue, looking to find agreement, and that is very rare in this place sometimes. I want to thank the minister's chief of staff, Scott Tessier, who has done a phenomenal amount of work helping me to coordinate some meetings with stakeholders and with officials so that we can come to a better understanding of autism and a better awareness on all sides.
I want to thank some of the specific people who were part of those meetings. I want to thank Suzanne Lanthier from Autism Speaks Canada. She is the executive director, and it was Autism Speaks that, with the UN, started World Autism Awareness Day three years ago.
I want to thank Laurie Mawlam from Autism Canada, Kathleen Provost from the Autism Society Canada and Marg Whelan from the Geneva Centre, who have been taking part in these meetings and all of whom work tirelessly to build awareness of autism and advocate for families across this country who are affected by this disorder.
I also want to thank some specific officials who were part of those meetings and have really expressed not only a desire to learn more but a real expertise in the area: Kim Elmslie from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Nathalie Gendron from CIHR and Karen Dodds and Gavin Brown from Health Canada.
These meetings have been fantastic. One of the things they sought to do is learn more about autism, but another thing they have been able to do is articulate some of the great things that are going on in terms of autism research right here in Canada and another priority for these communities in terms of surveillance. There are some really exciting things happening in Canada.
Others have spoken to these things, and I will spend my time from here on in, if I could, just talking about my son and using the example of our family and of Jaden to try to educate members of the House and maybe raise some more awareness of some of the challenges that families deal with.
I have one final thanks in regard to that. I want to thank my own family. My wife Debi has given up so much of her time and energy to help create a better life for our son. She gave up 12 years of a teaching career to run Jaden's program at our home and have workers coming through the house six hours a day, six days a week, over the early years of Jaden's life to help create a better circumstance for him.
I want to thank Jenae, who is now 11, his sister. When she was five years old she said something that I thought was very insightful and that a lot of kids who are siblings of people with autism can relate to. She said of her then-nine-year-old brother, “I'm his little sister, but I'm like his big sister”. She is now 11. She is just starting to babysit, and one of her first jobs consistently right now is to babysit her 15-year-old brother, which is a unique circumstance for any 11-year-old, I am sure. She has just been fantastic with him and a real blessing in our lives.
Every Sunday night I tuck the kids into bed and we have a routine with Jaden. He does not talk, but he looks at my face, he grabs my cheeks very firmly and he expresses with his eyes this absolute need to know what is happening with the week. He is obsessed with schedules. He is obsessed with travel. He has to know every day, so I go through a routine where I look him in the eyes and I say, “Today is Sunday, Jaden, and tomorrow morning I am going to hop on a plane and I'm going to fly to Ottawa, and then I'm going to be in Ottawa on Monday”, and I have to go through each day, “on Monday, on Tuesday night, on Wednesday night, on Thursday night, and then on Friday, Daddy's coming home”. At that point a smile comes across his face. He is satisfied because he knows what my schedule is. He can now go to sleep and get some rest.
Then on Friday when I get home, my family is there to pick me up and Jaden, a 15-year-old teenage boy, just has the biggest smile on his face when I get home, when I open the door. The first thing he wants to do is give me a big kiss. How many 15-year-old boys cannot wait until their dad gets home so they can give him a kiss?
That is what Jaden is like. He expresses his emotions honestly. We know exactly how he is feeling. If he is sad, he cries. If he is happy, he laughs. He cannot talk but if we ask him how he is doing, he will answer with a high five or a thumbs up to tell us that everything is good, and always with a smile on his face if they are good.
I will just tell members a bit about Jaden's past. As a young boy, he loved to play hockey. He went out on the ice and I had the chance to go out and play with him. He loved ice cream and there is a story that a lot of parents can relate to. One time we were at an Oilers game. I worked for the Edmonton Oilers. I was sitting in the seats with him and he decided he wanted some ice cream, but rather than ask me for some ice cream, he did the easiest thing. He reached over the shoulder of the little girl who was sitting in front of him and just simply grabbed the ball of ice cream off the top of her cone and stuck it in his mouth, with a big smile on his face. He was seven years old and looked like any other kid, but he saw ice cream, he wanted it, and that is how he got it, with a big smile on his face.
It gave me an opportunity to educate another parent, her father, who was quite startled by the situation but quickly understood when I explained that my son had autism, and that is what I find, time and time again with Canadians, a real understanding when I take the time to explain the situation to them.
I am already running short on time. I knew, when I was looking at what I wanted to say, that this was going to happen. I want to jump now to his teenage years and explain a bit about Jaden's teenage years. Now is he 15, but when he was 13, he went through a time of real anxiety. Can we imagine being 13 years old and not being able to talk, not being able to express ourselves? Kids with autism do not deal with abstract things very well, so with any emotions that he had and changes that he was going through, he could not articulate in any way what it was like to go through those things, so he started to experience some anxiety.
It is heartbreaking for parents. It is important, obviously, for teachers and those dealing with these kids to understand that that can be a real challenge. Now that he is 15, he has gone through that and now we are dealing with some new challenges. How do we give Jaden independence? How do we allow him to succeed? How do we find things that he can be successful at? This is another challenge that families go through.
In Jaden's case, what he is successful at is that he loves to work in the library at school. He will take all the books that come in. He loves to put things in order and he cannot wait to get to the library, to leave class. I guess that is a typical 15-year-old thing. He cannot wait to get out of class so that he can go to the library and put away books for an hour at a time. He does it probably better than any other kid would do it, because he is excited to put things in order. He loves order. He loves things that are concrete.
As we look to the future, we deal with questions that every parent of a child with autism deals with. Kids with autism do not have a shorter life span than the rest of us. They are going to live just as long as the rest of us, notwithstanding the fact that they are more prone to dangerous things that they do not understand. Every parent has to deal with the question of what will happen when we are not there for our children anymore. What happens when we move on and maybe some kids do not have the support networks that we have? They do not have siblings who can take care of them. Maybe siblings are there but cannot take care of them because they cannot cope with it. Those are questions that need to be understood as well.
When we are talking about autism awareness, it is so important. That is why this bill is so important. It is so important to us, as families, that people begin to understand, and of course for politicians to understand so that we can make the best decisions possible for the families. It is important for the larger community to understand what we go through so that when our child throws himself down in a grocery store at seven years old, looking like any other child but having a tantrum in the middle of a grocery store, it does not just look like bad parenting, that people kind of understand and recognize what is going on.
Looking at an initial diagnosis, we had some problems when Jaden was originally going through some challenges at a young age, problems with recognizing it as autism. More and more doctors today, because of the efforts of people like Laurie, Kathleen, Marg and Suzanne, are recognizing autism when they are looking at kids and some of the challenges they face.
I would conclude just by thanking all of my colleagues in this House and my constituents for taking the time to understand, my friends in the media, the House of Commons staff and security who have been so fantastic with Jaden over the years, and people who take time across this country to understand what families dealing with autism are going through.