World Autism Awareness Day

Honourable senators, we have all these notes and prepared speeches in front of us, but sometimes you have to speak straight from the heart.

The last three days have been an incredibly emotional journey dealing with Autism Awareness Day. We heard wonderful remarks from Senator Housakos and Senator Bernard, adding to the team of senators who are building towards getting a national autism strategy, and we are going to get it.

We have had good things come from the government, in terms of the previous government, on research and science and chairs of autism and being ready, willing and able to deal with employment for young adults with autism.

As I stand here today in front of you, 10 years after our report Pay Now or Pay Later, I’m glad the Scottish delegation is here, because three rows behind you is Molly MacDonald who has autism. She is here because she was on the Hill with Suzanne

Jacobsen. There were 500 people today on the Hill, all parties and everybody together thinking about a person like Molly MacDonald.

I’m also thinking of Wyatt Tuft from a school here, an 11-year-old advocate who got his school to talk about autism on his particular day. A young man came up to him, and he had coloured his hair blue to show empathy and what it means to be participating in this society.

Now let me get a little personal. When I started this journey, 10 or 11 years ago, little did I know that I, too, would find autism in my family, when I was at the school and invited by my second cousin, introduced again to my two third cousins, Tristin Mercer and Kirin Mercer. Can you imagine? And little Tristin, seven years old, kept looking at me saying, “Are you my cousin? Are you really my cousin?” I said, “I’m your cousin, and I’m also your advocate and friend.” And I know we have a lot of friends inside the Senate as we push towards a national strategy.

The only thing that I will say here that is on a piece of paper — and I have about 18 pieces of paper here — is because of this week and because of this summit, it’s a movement and we’re working together and we’re going to get there. All Canadians living with autism have the right to inclusion, understanding and acceptance, respect and dignity, full citizenship, equitable opportunities and access, personal autonomy and decision making.

At the end of the day, honourable senators, it is about those who live in the autism community having the same rights as you and I, and it is about human rights.

Thank you, honourable senators.