Mr. Speaker, I could not help but notice that the member did not answer the question with respect to process. My colleague from Edmonton raised the issue of selecting diseases on that ad hoc basis. The wording of the Canada Health Act is such that it should catch all health related issues. I wonder if the member has given any consideration to lobbying his provincial government to look at the costs related to autism because that would be the appropriate venue to do this type of lobbying as it falls under provincial jurisdiction.
We recognize that the growing number of children and families affected by autism spectrum disorders requires action, but the government cannot support the bill put forward by the hon. member for Charlottetown. Given the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal, provicial and territorial governments in the area of health care, amending the Canada Health Act may not be the best way to go.
We all appreciate the reasons behind the introduction of this bill. While we know that many people with autism are not disabled by the impact of the disorder, but live regular everyday lives, we also know that autism spectrum disorders can affect people in many very difficult ways, sometimes isolating them as a result of compulsive behaviour and speech disorders that close them off from their families, friends, teachers, neighbours, and society as a whole. Autism can impact all aspects of a person's life and if untreated, result in physical, emotional, social and intellectual isolation.
Sadly, we also know that there is no universal treatment that works equally and in all cases. Many believe that behavioural therapy services such as applied behavioural analysis or intensive behavioural intervention, known collectively as ABA or IBI, are the best treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Families of children with autism spectrum disorders have reported improved self-functioning, self-efficiency, and quality of life when their children are provided with ABA or IBI services, particularly at an early age.
There is no doubt that a situation for which the treatments most likely to be beneficial cost tens of thousands of dollars can be a profound challenge on top of the challenges that autism spectrum disorders may bring in the first place.
No one on either side of this House denies that families affected by autism face gaps in the services, especially the social services, that can be used to address the needs of their children. We have heard from parents and other autism stakeholders that one of the challenges facing children with autism spectrum disorders is the inconsistency of services available across the country.
It is not surprising to me that people in the autism community, parents and supporters of many kinds, have been so active in seeking action on autism spectrum disorders. We understand that parents of children with autism spectrum disorders are concerned about access to treatment and we have tremendous sympathy for them. However, the responsibility for delivering health care services in Canada rests with the provinces and territories, and it is at this level that the issue must be addressed.
Amending the Canada Health Act to include behavioural therapy is not an appropriate response to this issue. Rather, Canada's new government is committed to working to help Canadian families affected by autism spectrum disorders.
As announced recently, we are undertaking five initiatives to improve knowledge and research on autism spectrum disorders and to help those individuals and families who may need more assistance meeting the challenges that autism can bring.
In addition to initiatives aimed at additional research and surveillance of autism spectrum disorders, we will be sponsoring a symposium on autism next spring. It is our hope that this symposium will serve as an opportunity for all stakeholders to share best practices, exchange knowledge and learn from others.
While the details are not final yet, we anticipate that the focus of the symposium will be in the areas of research, surveillance and knowledge development. In particular, we have heard time and time again from stakeholders of the importance of knowledgeable information and research on autism spectrum disorders.
A symposium designed to bring together key researchers and knowledge experts in the area will be extremely valuable. We also hope that the symposium will assist with the establishment of more surveillance and epidemiological studies to determine actual incidence and possible geographic “pockets” of autism.
Finally, we hope that the symposium will enable stakeholders, including individuals with autism and their families, to share information on the individual manifestations of autism and to discuss essential supports for people with autism and their families.
We know that access to reliable information is a challenge for the public, including parents of autistic children. That is why, as announced two weeks ago, a web page on autism has been added to the Health Canada website. The web page, as it grows and is further developed, will facilitate access to public information related to autism spectrum disorders.
We also indicated that the health policy branch of Health Canada will be responsible in the future for the coordination of policy and program activities at the health portfolio level.
These initiatives are important and they have been very well received by stakeholders. We recognize that these initiatives do not address all the issues associated with autism spectrum disorders. However, they will contribute to laying the foundation for a national strategy on autism.
I am pleased to have lent my support and also co-written Motion No. 172 that was introduced by my hon. colleague, the hon. member for Fredericton. One of the components of the motion was the establishment, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, of national standards for diagnosis and treatment. We know that many families of individuals with autism have felt that action had to be taken in this area. There are many different treatments for autism and very little research has been done to evaluate how they work.
The government recognizes that there is a need to compare different forms of ABA and other treatments through randomized controlled trials and other methods to determine what is most effective in particular circumstances. This is why the investments we are making in research are so critical. They are a necessary foundation for a broader approach to the issue.
While we are moving forward on these new initiatives, the government will continue to provide support to individuals with autism and their families who need it, including financial support through the tax system. In budget 2006, the Minister of Finance raised the maximum annual child disability benefit. In addition, he extended eligibility for the child disability benefit to middle income earners and therefore reaches almost everyone.
Canada's new government will continue to fund the four centres of excellence for children's well-being with an emphasis and interest in autism spectrum disorders.
There are other programs that the government has undertaken, however, time does not permit me to speak on all of them. Let me just say that autism is an important issue. We have to work together. We have to be honest in the discussion and be honest where the responsibility lies.
The federal government is taking responsibility in the areas that lie in the federal government's jurisdiction. I hope the awareness that is being created by this debate will empower the people who are affected by autism and help ensure that provinces make the right decision in their jurisdiction.