NOTES FOR REMARKS: SPEECH IN THE SENATE ON FUNDING FOR THE TREATMENT OF AUTISM

Honourable senators, as you know, last month the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released its final report — Pay Now or Pay Later — on my inquiry on the funding for the treatment of autism.

While I am proud of that report and pleased that the Senate has brought the issue of autism to the attention of the government and to the people of this country, this is just the beginning. The next step is for the government to take the recommendations, put some policies in place and ensure that the Canadian families who are coping with this crisis are not alone.

A report is nothing if it is not backed by action. Autism affects 50,000 children and 150,000 adults in Canada, and those numbers are growing. This report draws our attention to a pressing and urgent issue — but it does not deliver treatment. It does not provide a break for families who are faced with the full-time care of a high-needs child. It does not pay the bills that are neglected because of the high cost of private autism therapy. It cannot mend the marriages that break up due to the stress autism causes in a family. The incidence of autism is a crisis that requires a national strategy.

We talk about waiting lists for surgery, cataract surgery and knee and hip replacements — and of course, we need to shorten these waiting lists. However, we have another waiting list. Children with autism across Canada are on waiting lists to get treatment. Some will never get treatment because they will not be eligible after a certain age. Some will be eligible for treatment but no therapists will be available. Others still will regress into silence and isolation after their treatment, judged no longer necessary, is withdrawn.

We recognize as a nation the need to tackle health issues together. Cancer, strokes, heart attacks, obesity, all of these health issues affect Canadians across the country and we all consider them worthy of national action and attention. My hope is that the Senate report will take us one step closer to putting autism on the list of urgent health issues that require our immediate attention.