Autism Awareness Month

Honourable senators, October is Autism Awareness Month. For individuals and groups dedicated to autism issues in Canada, this occasion is an opportunity to carry out public awareness and advocacy initiatives.

As we all know, there are tens of thousands of people within our country’s autism community, each with his and her own unique story and role. What they have in common is commitment to action and the ever-motivating knowledge that, despite the tremendous advancements they achieve every day, there is always more to be done.

Last month, I was in Woodstock, New Brunswick, to speak at the first meeting of a friendship group for families of children with autism. There were about 20 women in the room — mothers and grandmothers of children with autism. All of them are seeking change but are at a loss for where to begin. Services and resources available through the provincial government are inadequate in New Brunswick, and the system for accessing them is difficult to decipher.

I do speak to autism groups very often. Every group is distinct, but this one really surprised me. The stories of the people I met are like those I heard more than a decade ago, when I first set out to learn more about autism. You might remember that six short years ago in the Senate and at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology I urged a study, and then we released a report, Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis. That report got people’s attention. I wish it would get the attention of reporters in the gallery today. It united and rallied members of the autism community around a set of strong recommendations. The recommendation that Canada create a national autism spectrum disorder strategy stands out this day as the only effective and moral response to the autism crisis in this country.

For thousands of Canadian families dealing with autism, the challenges are harder than they have to be. It is not just a matter of needing better autism services and resources; it’s also a matter of ensuring that services and resources are consistent and equally accessible everywhere in this country.

As we approach the end of Autism Awareness Month, the campaigns promoting a national ASD strategy will wind down, but the need for a strategy will continue to grow more and more urgent.

I urge you, honourable senators, to take action, to do whatever it is you can to persuade the federal government to rise to its responsibility and meet this need for once and for all.