Advocates and families affected by autism spectrum disorder are pleading with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to commit to a national autism strategy.
The NDP, Conservatives and Green’s all have pledged to develop a federal strategy if elected, Trudeau however, has not.
In a statement to Global News Joseph Pickerill, a spokesperson for the party said, “Our Liberal government provided $20 million to better support the needs of Canadians with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families, and invested in the Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategic Fund.
“We listened to parents, researchers, and other stakeholders who said Canada needed better data. And in 2018, we launched the first national data report on ASD to help inform support and programs.”
However Laura Kirby McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, said, “There’s simply not a plan, let alone a strategy.”
She said the initiatives and funding outlined by the party thus far are “time limited and scattered.”
“There needs to be coordination, especially for programs that help families with housing and employment,” she said. “There are 500, 000 Canadians on the spectrum and 86 per cent of them are unemployed. That’s horrifying. It’s a national problem and Justin Trudeau needs to deal with it.”
The party also pointed to plans to double the child disability benefit.
Trudeau said the promise will give families up to $5,600 tax free support per year.
Pickerill added, “This tax-free monthly benefit helps children whose impairment is severe, and prolonged by conditions like autism spectrum disorder.”
In Ontario, a bitter battle has been fought over provincial support for autism services.
After former Ontario Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced changes to the funding framework in 2018, thousands rallied on the front lawn of the provincial legislature in protest. Parents also protested inside Queen’s Park during question period, and tearful mothers pleaded with MacLeod one-on-one.
MacLeod was eventually shuffled out of the ministry and the government largely backed away from the changes.
Bruce McIntosh was a PC staffer at the time who quit over the changes.
“We have had to go to battle with three different premiers and two different parties in Ontario over more than 15 years. We don’t want to go to battle with Trudeau as well. Our people are tired of fighting,” he said.
Pickerill used the events in Ontario to draw a comparison in policy between the federal and provincial Conservative parties.
“Conservatives cut, just like Doug Ford’s Conservatives did when they cut support for people with autism,” he said.
However Mike Lake, a federal Conservative candidate from Edmonton, said, “As Prime Minister, Andrew Scheer will work with autism stakeholders to develop a National Autism Strategy.”
Lake has been an outspoken advocate for autism supports since his son Jaden was diagnosed at 2 years old with spectrum disorder.
Lake said missed days at work, drives to appointments that can cost up to $80,0000 a year for children with high needs and late nights are weighing on families right across the country.
“An initial investment of $50 million over five years would be invested to develop a comprehensive strategy in consultation with autistic individuals, autism organizations, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, and indigenous communities. The National Autism Strategy will be person-centred, include first-person perspectives, will be culturally appropriate, and will reflect the needs of Canada’s northern, rural, and remote communities,” Lake said.
The party said the commitment is an important first step to support Canadian’s access to resources nationwide.
However Laura said, “We don’t need more consultations about how to create a national autism strategy, that work has already been done.”
In the spring of 2019, The Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance released a blue print for a national strategy after consulting with various stakeholders.
“We don’t have time to backtrack. The autism community has been perfectly clear about what we want and that’s action. We also want to make sure that what happens to autism families in Ontario never happens again and that’s where the federal government has a leadership role to play,” Laura said.
Erin Morrison, a spokesperson with the NDP, said if elected, leader Jagmeet Singh “will invest $100 million over four years to develop a National Autism Strategy, focused on coordinating support for research, ensuring access to needs-based services, promoting employment, and helping expand housing options for people living with autism.”