Mr. Speaker, what just happened in the House is extremely significant. It extends to the whole House an opportunity to embrace a subject matter that is substantively to adopt a national strategy to address autism.
The member for Fredericton has been a champion on this file for a long period of time. I have known him since 1993 and I and many of his peers and many Canadians have come to know that when he champions an issue we can be assured that he will give it due diligence and his full attention. I know he has worked very hard with Autism Canada as well as with other NGOs who have been working so hard to get recognition here.
I take what has happened as a sign that the House will strongly support this resolution in principle to adopt or develop a national strategy to address autism. The member should be very proud of having brought this to the attention of the House and to have earned the respect and the support of the House in terms of taking this one step further.
I was here to speak on behalf of the resolution but the resolution has changed somewhat. However, the spirit of the resolution is still there.
What I thought I might do in lieu of that is to remind all hon. members, and those who happen to be watching the proceedings or who may read them in Hansard later on, a little about autism. As public education is a very important part of resolving social problems, I will briefly outline the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder is a complex biomedical condition that can affect the normal function of the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems. It impacts normal brain development, leaving most individuals with communication problems, difficulty with typical social interactions, prone to repeat specific patterns of behaviour and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interests.
Individuals on the autism spectrum tend to have varying degrees or a combination of symptoms and therefore the treatments will be as varied as the individuals. It shows that there is a difference in terms of maybe some of the other challenges that we face in terms of childhood diseases and issues such as autism. In fact, the research is actually trying to deal with a multiplicity of targets and it is very difficult.
In the early signs of autism, which become prevalent between the ages of 12 months and 24 months, a child may demonstrate only a few of the following symptoms.The child starts to develop language and then loses it or does not acquire language at all. The child may appear to be deaf or may respond unevenly or not to all sounds. It is sometimes difficult consoling the child during transitions, resulting in tantrums, which are a big challenge for parents. The child has difficulty sleeping or frequently awakens at night. The child does not point or look. The child fails to bond, reacts to vaccines, is on a self-restricted or selected diet, has limited imaginative play, has no interest in playing with other children, has chronic gastrointestinal problems and has repeated infections.
When we look at the list of the possibilities that a child may experience, one or several at any one point in time, it shows the enormous challenge that this presents to parents who are trying to provide that loving care to a child in desperate need of some help.
Individuals with autism do exhibit some strengths. Although some areas of development in a child are delayed, children with ASD often exhibit skills beyond their years in other areas.
These intellectual strengths may overshadow the developmental problem experienced by the young child. These strengths may include one or more of the following. Their non-verbal reasoning skills may be better. Their reading skills may be very good. Their perceptual motor skills may also be positive, as may their drawing skills and computer interests and skills. They may have exceptional memory, visual and spatial abilities, and music skills. These are important. These children have various pockets of skill sets in areas in which they can perform, but like most children with childhood diseases, they have many challenges as well.
Although there are these exceptional skills, there also may be significant delays in other areas. I will give just a brief summary. There is going to be an impairment in social relationships. Children need to interact and they need to play. They need to learn from others' experience and to have interpersonal relationships, but these children often demonstrate a lack of awareness and a lack of normal seeking of comfort when they are stressed, as well as abnormal toy play and an inability to form friendships. These are some of the things that may be observed in terms of social relationships.
There are deficits in communication and language and a lack of perseverance on interests and activities. They are not able to keep up that interest. When I see some of these, I also see some of the evidence of the symptoms of other childhood diseases. For instance, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder also has some very similar symptoms. There also may be a dependence on routine as well as abnormal responses to sensory stimulation, behavioural problems, variability in intellectual functioning, uneven developmental profiles, difficulties with sleeping, toileting and eating, immune regularities, nutritional deficiencies, and, of course, gastrointestinal problems.
These are the kinds of things that people should keep in mind. Many of us have received many communications from constituents all across the country who have asked parliamentarians to take a special interest in this autism spectrum of disorder. It is one that tugs at the heartstrings, but we should do things not because they tug at our heartstrings, but because they are right to do.
I believe that the good faith shown by all hon. members in the House in terms of making a concerted effort to ask the government to pursue a national strategy to address autism is an enormous step that we are taking. I again want to thank the member for Fredericton for his initiative and the leadership role he took to make sure that this will become a reality in this Parliament.