Autism Awareness Month

Honourable senators, October is Autism Awareness Month, and I was reflecting on what a month it has been. As I mentioned yesterday, it was wonderful the day before to see so many members of Parliament supporting the bill on Autism Awareness Day that is about to be signed by the Governor General. This is about more than only awareness; there is a method behind all of this, and I hope we can move forward not only with symbols but also with concrete action.

Members of Parliament Mike Lake, Harold Albrecht, Libby Davies, Hedy Fry and many others have supported this bill.

To have Autism Awareness Month may be seen as a symbolic gesture, but it is not. Every gesture made in the interest of people with autism, however small it may seem, brings this country closer to effectively addressing the autism crisis.

I gained awareness of autism 10 years ago when I saw a protester with a sign who was carrying a heavy burden. He could not even make eye contact with his son. The boy was isolated, and they were isolated from the rest of the world. After that, for the past 10 years, along with all of you, I have been working hard to ensure that we pay more attention to autism.

The Social Affairs Committee conducted a study on autism, the report of which, Pay Now or Pay Later, was approved by everyone in the Senate. The title of the report came from the mouth of one of our witnesses who said that we will have to pay now or pay later, and we agreed with that.

The government has done a number of important things. Because of this bill and other work in the Senate, we now have a monitoring and surveillance system that I think will be very important, because the people at Health Canada will have to communicate what they know to the provinces. Maybe this is the first building block towards a national autism spectrum disorder strategy, a strategy that those in the autistic community in this country want. They think it is extremely important.

I am going to pursue the study of Aboriginal youth and adults who have autism, because we have a responsibility to do that.

When I launched that inquiry in 2007, 1 in 150 children was diagnosed with autism. Five years later, 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with it. Parliamentarians have a lot of work to do. This is Autism Awareness Month. We would all appreciate it if honourables senators would speak about autism when they are in their regions.

We must continue to work to improve the lives of people with autism and their families. Improving their lives improves our lives as well.