World Autism Awareness Day

I rise today to talk about World Autism Awareness Day, which is tomorrow. Moments ago I was on the front steps of Parliament, and there was a rally for autism. There were 200 of us there, and it was a feel-good experience. It’s the third Autism Day on the Hill, carried out by my dear friend Suzanne Jacobson of QuickStart and KickStart here in Ottawa. She’s on the Hill somewhere, and I want to thank her so much because she truly is a champion. Suzanne has made it a beautiful tradition for this day of awareness building to create a banner with pictures of Canadians with autism. You should have seen it today. It was so special.

The “faces of autism” banner includes the pictures and names of 165 people — children, adults and siblings. Some pictures are funny and quirky, others more formal, including graduation shots. Those photos make a powerful statement, and I’m grateful to Suzanne for helping Canadians to better understand what matters most in the ongoing effort to deal with autism as a social, moral and, above all, human rights issue.

In the last two days we had the first ever autism summit with 150 of us — we began with seven or eight of us about 10 years ago — from across the country under the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, CASDA. The agenda was packed with insightful presentations and demonstrations. It was truly a wonderful time.

Based on the results of a national survey conducted last year to assess autism service needs amongst Canadians, discussions are moving forward. Yesterday, CASDA announced, for example, that it was asked to submit a proposal by the federal government to build a Canadian partnership with this government. I think this is a good thing. If it is successful — and I’m keeping my fingers crossed — there will be a lot of money in the upcoming budget. We’re getting closer and closer to a national autism awareness strategy.

Honourable senators, and our guests here, tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day. It is a day to recognize those living with autism and to reflect on how these individuals and Canadians can best ensure that their human rights are respected in this country we call home. It is about inclusiveness and a smart party would have this in their election campaign platform. If all of the parties have it, I’ll support all of the parties on this specific issue, and I’ll make that deal with everyone.

At this moment and within the current environment, I have never, ever believed more in a national autism spectrum disorder strategy — the absolute need for one, as well as our capacity to achieve one.