The Guardian (Charlottetown)

Families dealing with autism are in crisis: Senator Munson leading charge to get more help from Government to improve services for families of children diagnosed with autism.

Wayne Thibodeau

Michelle Pineau had her suspicions but she was hoping it was something else.

Her two-year-old son’s speech was not developing normally. But educators and health care workers simply blamed his late development on being a boy.

Matthieu, now eight, was later diagnosed as autistic.

“A lot of parents experience being told ‘wait and see’, ‘he’s a boy, boys develop more slowly than girls’,” Pineau said.

“I really had to push to advance things, to get a diagnosis. That was frustrating.”

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that typically affects a person’s ability to communicate, form relationships and respond appropriately to the environment. It results from a neurological disorder that impedes normal brain development in the areas of social interaction, behaviour and communication skills.

There is no definitive cause or cure for this lifelong disorder, which affects four times as many boys as girls and usually manifests itself during the first three years of life.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the incidence of autism is now one in every 150 births. Autism is now more common than Down syndrome, childhood cancer and juvenile diabetes.

An Ottawa senator said families dealing with autism are in crisis.

Jim Munson has led the charge nationally for improvements in services for children with autism.

Munson was part of a Senate committee that, last March, produced a report called, “Pay Now or Pay Later, Autism Families in Crisis.”

“There are families on the Island who are suffering silently,” said Munson, who is originally from New Brunswick and spent 30 years as a reporter for CTV. He was on the Island this week.

His son, Timothy James Alexander, motivates Munson. Timothy was born with Down syndrome. He died shortly before his first birthday.

“There was a time when Down syndrome or intellectually challenged children were put aside. Look what’s happened in that community.”

Parents on Prince Edward Island continue to struggle to find the services they so desperately need.

But Pineau is more hopeful now than ever before that those services may be forthcoming.

Two days after Premier Robert Ghiz took office, Pineau received a telephone call from him. He wanted a meeting with Pineau and others who have been affected by autism.

Pineau said she’s hopeful the Liberal premier will implement a provincial strategy to deal with autism. She said the province can’t wait for the federal government to act.

“I’m very optimistic that there is a new era of collaboration in the province,” she said.

“Maybe we become a leader in the region, or even nationally, in the delivery of autism services. We can certainly encourage other provinces by taking the lead ourselves.”

Munson said he’d like to see the federal government take the lead so there is not a patchwork of programs and services.

He wants to see a national autism strategy.

Alberta is now the leader across Canada, providing up to $60,000 annually to a child with autism up to the age of 18.

In P.E.I., provincial help comes to a halt at the age of six. There is also a lot less money to provide services to children with autism.

“It’s expensive but buying tanks is expensive too,” said Munson.

“What we have now is a patchwork, scattergun approach to dealing with autism in individual provinces.”

Matthieu Pineau is now a vibrant young boy. He’s a Grade 3 student at Ecole Saint-Augustin in Rustico.

Luckily, Pineau’s son has not needed medications to treat his autism and he’s enjoying school life.

“He’s doing well since he started school,” his mom says.

“He’s coming along. He’s making marked progress.”

AUTISM FACTS

Lifelong disorder

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control the incidence of autism is now one in every 150 births.

– Autism is now more common than Down syndrome, childhood cancer and juvenile diabetes.

– There is no definitive cause or cure for this lifelong disorder, which affects four times as many boys as girls.

– 48 per cent of children diagnosed can recover with early intensive intervention using behavioral principles and structured teaching