Autism Awareness Month

Honourable senators, October is Autism Awareness Month, presenting us with a great opportunity to learn about and reflect on this disorder and its impact on people’s lives.

Though I speak about autism at this time every year and, of course, on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, I’m not at a loss to say something new. Thanks to the determination of a great many people, the tens of thousands of people who make up Canada’s courageous autism community, there is always some groundbreaking, innovative treatment or discovery to highlight. But we have new numbers now. It’s amazing; after 10 years, the national rate of autism is now 1 in 68. It is moving to a range of a public health crisis.

In the early years, my messages were about autistic children and those who cared for them. Today those children are adults, and their parents and other family members are older, too.

With the transition of autistic children into adulthood, Canadian society is confronted with a fundamental challenge: dealing effectively with the lifelong needs of autistic people.

During the break week, I spent two days at the Ability Hub in Calgary, Alberta. Funded by the Sinneave Family Foundation, it’s an impressive centre providing services for the autism community in Alberta. There are so many good things happening in Alberta and at this Ability Hub, such as the state-of-art software and data services program for autistic adults. It is called Meticulon, and here autistic adults can find meaningful work by being matched with a software company. There’s also a community access program that trains and matches adults with companies like London Drugs, Tim Hortons and Safeway.

There’s another program, called Launch, which focuses on improving the quality of life and level of independence of adolescents and adults with an autism spectrum disorder.

Some 425 families are utilizing the Ability Hub. They like to talk about promising practices there. I look at the Ability Hub in Calgary and see an opportunity share those practices with the rest of the country. Step by step, we are moving toward the major recommendation in our Senate report, Pay Now or Pay Later, a national autism spectrum disorder strategy.

In many respects, the federal government has taken up the challenge with disability tax credits, job creation initiatives and research chairs, but there is so much more to be done. The key is to bring everyone together and to have everyone working from the same page.

I stand here today thinking of a little five-year-old boy I met last week also in Calgary. His name is Tahir. He was being nurtured at the autism organization called the Society for Treatment of Autism. My goodness, what great work they do! Tahir was with a behavioural intervention therapist in a sensory room, a room that offers a peaceful but stimulating environment. Tahir smiled and held my hand. Sometimes he would joyfully jump up and down, communicating the only way he knows how to. He is non-verbal, but he still speaks to you through his smile and his eyes. Tahir wouldn’t even smile two years ago.

My hope during this Autism Awareness Month is that when Tahir reaches adulthood, there will be a real place in society for him to thrive, to work and to love. Step by step, we as politicians have a moral obligation to get him there.

We are all in this together.