Autism One Conference

Thank you very much for having me here with you this morning.  I appreciate being able to say a few words before you start your day.  Let me start by congratulating you.  Your work is crucial to the lives of so many people.

Today is Hallowe’en and kids across North America are excited – planning their costumes, thinking about their loot, early waiting for darkness to come.  But you, more than anyone else, know that there are other kids out there, right now, struggling with ASD and for them Hallowe’en is scarier than it was ever meant to be.

For some of them, the door-to-door of Trick or Treating is unthinkable.  The idea of putting on a costume unbearable.  The disruption in their routine tonight could make them extremely uncomfortable.

Their parents will cope.  They will adapt.  Their siblings will carry on, perhaps sighing with resignation or getting frustrated.  The family will work around it just like they do every day drawing on their inner strength, patience, creativity, and love to give this special child what he or she needs.

We know the stresses are enormous.

And recently we were reminded of the tragedy that can result from families not being able to cope with the challenges of ASD.

So that’s where you come in.  There is an urgent need to solve this intricate, complicated, and difficult puzzle we call Autism Spectrum Disorder and we can’t do it alone.

I have had the good fortune to meet people with ASD and their families, researchers, and advocates over the last five years.  There is so much I have learned.  I have learned that ASD affects individuals in very different ways and the way that families and friends help and support their loved ones with ASD is just as diverse.  And certainly we know that provinces all approach ASD in a different way in terms of what they fund and how much they fund.

But no matter what we decide to do as policy-makers, as politicians, as parents and friends, we need you to do your work so that we can make sound and reasonable decisions.

People have asked me, “why are interested in autism?  Why are you involved?”  So I tell them about Timmy.

Timmy would be 40 this year and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve come a long way when it comes to Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.  We no longer use the offensive language we used to use – the hurtful words to describe someone with Down Syndrome.

But the time has come for us to make the same progress for autism.  We need to open our minds and open our hearts so that we can create a society that is more accepting.

But we also need to do more to help people with ASD.  And we are counting on you to help us.

I think this must be a very exciting time for researchers and practitioners.
You are detectives trying to solve several mysteries – what causes ASD?  What are our treatment options? How can we help friends and family of those with ASD?

The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology heard from many people when we conducted our inquiry into autism.  Our final report, Pay Now or Pay Later Autism Families in Crisis called for a national strategy for ASD.  This strategy must include research, treatment options and building greater awareness among all Canadians about ASD.

We don’t have that strategy yet.

But research is one area where the government has shown itself willing to take action.  I urge you to take advantage of this momentum and to keep pushing for more funding.  And I ask that you find a spirit of cooperation in your work.  Keep an open mind and listen to each other.

Please think about the families who are looking to you for answers.  They need you to continue your good work. It won’t change what they’re going through today, tomorrow, next week, or maybe even next year.  But inevitably, your work will offer answers.  Answers that offer hope.

Keep up your good work!  For my part, I will keep pushing government to do more for ASD and to support your essential detective work.  We want you to go full steam ahead.  The more and better work you are able to do, the sooner more families with ASD will be having good days, day after day.  The sooner Hallowe’en will be a holiday ALL children will enjoy.

Thank you very much.