Mr. Speaker, before beginning my speech, I would like to thank my NDP colleague from Chambly—Borduas for sharing with us this very touching story, this very heartbreaking story, about people living in this kind of situation. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I would like to tell them that the New Democratic team is working hard on the committee to ensure that the government provides greater assistance to informal caregivers through a tax credit or a tax benefit that will help low-income families and lower middle class families. We have to help families that are taking care of their loved ones, the members of their family.
Clearly, the government can do something. The government must demonstrate leadership in this area. I do not see any leadership by the Conservatives today. However, I am optimistic that they will increase the assistance available to families who are taking care of their loved ones.
To begin my speech officially, I would like to mention the fact that Bill S-206 will officially designate April 2 as world autism awareness day. This awareness day will increase awareness among Canadians of the challenges faced by autistic individuals and the importance of improving their opportunities and the treatments for autism.
Organizations such as the Autism Society Canada and the United Nations already mark this very special day.
For those who may perhaps be less familiar with autism, I will provide a summary of it. Autism is the most common neurological disorder among children. Many people do not know this, but it truly is the most frequently occurring neurological disorder affecting children. It affects millions of Canadian families, because one child in 110 is affected by some type of autism. There are many different types of autism that I will not describe in detail. I do not think this would be relevant to the type of discussion we want to have today concerning world autism awareness day.
Autism disturbs the brain's operation. Consequently, it is characterized by abnormal social interaction and communication, as well as by restricted and repetitive behaviours.
Autism is also referred to as autism spectrum disorder. I just want to clarify that these terms are used interchangeably. This disorder affects all aspects of childhood development and the symptoms usually appear during the first three years of life. It can manifest itself a little later than that, but usually it is within the first three years. It is the parents, who spend most of their time with their children, who notice that their child may be a little different than the others developmentally speaking. Just because a child is different does not necessarily mean that he or she has autism spectrum disorder, but it is a good indicator for parents. They must pay special attention to the situation and to the development of their child because he or she could be autistic.
As I mentioned, the symptoms usually appear in the first three years. The seriousness of the disorder, the number and type of symptoms, the age at which the disorder manifests itself, the level of functionality and the challenges posed by social interaction vary greatly from one person to the next. Science has not yet determined an exact cause of autism. It is still a grey area. Research is placing a particular emphasis on genetic, biological and environmental factors, but that is still a lot of ground to cover.
It is also important for all levels of government to support research to determine the real causes of autism spectrum disorder. It would be great news for families and their children if we were eventually able to prevent the disease in one way or another as a result of medical advances. If we cannot prevent the disease, we must at least help these families to live with the disorder. I think that would be very much appreciated by our society.
There are approximately 35 million autistic people worldwide. In Canada, although epidemiological details are rare, approximately 48,000 children and 144,000 adults live with one form or another of the disease.
It is quite possible that people in your neighbourhood, or in your surrounding area, are living with an autism spectrum disorder and so are their family members. This demonstrates to what extent it is prevalent in our society and why we must act.
These figures do not take into account the millions of parents, family members, health care providers, employers, teachers, researchers, and other people who have to manage this kind of situation and help these people.
The NDP is in favour of having a day dedicated to recognizing autism and its impact on Canadian families. However, the NDP is calling for concrete measures to be taken. NDP members have introduced bills in an effort to move forward. I am referring to my colleagues from Sudbury and Vancouver Kingsway.
The NDP will support World Autism Awareness Day, but I hope that the government will move forward in the future, and will do more to support families and people living with autism spectrum disorder.