World Autism Awareness Day

Honourable senators, April 2 is a day that has been declared by the United Nations as World Autism Awareness Day.  There was consensus among 192 U.N. representatives that there is a need to draw the attention of people across the globe to this neurological disorder that is affecting more and more families.  I am speaking today to inform my Honourable colleagues that I intend to introduce a Private Member’s Bill so that Canada recognizes April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.


I would also like to draw the attention of my Honourable colleagues to the efforts of Mr. Jonathan Howard, a young man who has set out from St. John’s, Newfoundland and intends to run across the country to raise awareness about autism.  He plans to arrive in Victoria on November 21.  I encourage Honourable colleagues to support Jonathan Howard, to contribute to his cause, and to keep up with his journey.  You can visit his website at


People like Jonathan Howard and World Autism Awareness Day are opportunities to raise public awareness of autism and the need for research, early diagnosis, access to treatment, increased training of medical personnel and support for people with autism and their families for as long as they need support.


I want to remind my Honourable colleagues that autism now affects as many as one in 200 families in Canada.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.  Autism affects more children than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.


As you may remember, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology studied autism.  The title of our report, Pay Now or Pay later, Autism Families in Crisis, spoke volumes.  Intensive Behavioural Intervention, one of the treatments that has proven to be effective for many people with autism, is very expensive – more than $50,000 a year.  But no treatment, not spending any money, has huge costs as well.  People with autism who receive no treatment, or little treatment, often require full time care or institutionalization.  In addition to these not inconsiderable costs, there are the moral costs – the loss of potential of a human being.  People with autism who get the treatment and support they need can contribute to society.  Those who don’t receive treatment and support retreat into themselves.  Some become aggressive and violent.


I am fully aware that by declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day we won’t fix things overnight.  Families will still have to struggle with the demanding and difficult task of providing care, finding care, and buying care for their children with autism.  Parents will still have to worry about the future – about the day when they will be gone – about who will care for their child with autism.


But if I have learned anything in my four years in the Senate, it’s that small steps lead to historic journeys.  When I walked across Parliament Hill and met a lonely protester, a public servant with a sandwich board calling on the government to devote more resources to autism, I had no idea that within a year I would be asking the Senate to study autism in depth.  I had no idea that I would be standing here today to announce my intention to table a Private Members Bill to make April 2 World Autism Awareness Day.


I believe that by declaring April 2 World Autism Awareness Day, we will be making an important statement.  We will be saying to people with autism and their families, yes, you matter, yes we care.  We will be saying to all Canadians that autism is a growing problem that affects their community, their schools, their workplace, their neighbourhood, and their country.


Declaring April 2 World Autism Awareness Day is one small step in a journey to see that all people with autism and their families have the care and support they need.  I hope, Honourable Senators, that you will support me when I table the Bill that will make Canada recognize April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, so that we can take that small step on behalf of all Canadians with autism and their families.


Merci beaucoup.