Saturday, May 09, 2009

Autism Advocate Ruby Dhalla

Brampton-Sprindgale Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla is facing a serious threat to her political career. She has been accused of mistreating caregivers formerly employed by her brother. She claims that the accusations are nonsense and are part of a political consipiracy against her. As a lawyer, and as a Canadian citizen I believe that the caregivers' allegations AND Ms Dhalla's response should be carefully and responsibly investigated. Above all Ms Dhalla must not be prejudged in the media.

I have no idea how this will turn out but I hope that the allegations are found, after careful, responsble investigation, to be without merit. I admit that I do so selfishly because of Ms Dhalla's strong support for autistic children in Canada.

Unlike the Conservative Party's Mike Lake, himself an autism dad who recognizes the benefits of ABA for autistic children, but works against efforts to ensure that all autistic children receive such benefits , Ruby Dhalla has spoken eloquently, and with conviction, in support of a real National Autism Strategy that would benefit all of Canada's autistic children as she did in the House of Commons on October 27, 2006:

House of Commons Debates


OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD) Friday, October 27, 2006 Autism Spectrum Disorder (1415)

Ms. Ruby Dhalla (Brampton—Springdale, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as my colleague just mentioned, there is tremendous support for the creation of a national autism strategy, not only from members of the House but from many Canadians and families who have been affected by autism.

We must all join together in commending the students from Fredericton who actually did a tremendous amount of work in showing that they are activists for a very important cause.

We also must commend the dedication of many other colleagues in the House, including the member for Fredericton, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore and the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, as well as Senator Trenholme Counsell. We must commend them for their hard work and their commitment to ensuring that we in this country develop a national strategy to address the issue of autism.

We must look at it and make sure that the national strategy is going to ensure that children in this country who are affected by autism receive the type of treatment and therapy they need to ensure they have the highest quality of life possible, because many of us know that autism spectrum disorder is a very complex developmental disability, one that affects brain function.

People with autism typically have an inability to talk and understand or communicate with others. They have an inability to form social relationships, to make eye contact, perhaps to recognize dangerous situations, as my colleague who spoke before me mentioned, an inability to adapt to changes in the environment or their routine, and perhaps an inability to learn skills and language naturally, as typically developing children do.

Autism spectrum disorder is currently reaching epidemic levels. If we look 10 years back, statistics show that almost one in every 10,000 children was diagnosed with autism. However, in 2006 the statistics are quite shocking. One in 166 children is diagnosed with autism.

As the member of Parliament for Brampton—Springdale, I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of parents and families with autistic children who live in my constituency. Hearing their stories is absolutely heart-wrenching. As was described earlier, many families who have autistic children, not only in my riding but across the country in many of the other provinces and territories, are actually having to mortgage their homes, sell their homes or give up their jobs to ensure that their children get the very best in treatment. Treatment costs have been estimated at almost $70,000 per year.

We know there is effective treatment. I think that those of us in this House have a responsibility to ensure that the children who need that treatment actually get it. We must make these investments in their early childhood learning. We must ensure that they have the foundation to enable them to go out there and succeed.

Innovative research has shown us some effective treatment, such as intensive behavioural intervention, and there is also applied behaviour analysis, which actually breaks down into much more manageable steps many of the tasks these children face. Each newly achieved or mastered task then serves as a building block for these children to build on for future skills. These children are actually assisted or prompted, as some suggest, through this extremely positive therapeutic process.

Right now in most provinces, intensive behavioural intervention and applied behaviour analysis are actually funded for preschool children. However, treatment depends on where one lives in the country. In some provinces, the treatment is funded until the age of six. As was mentioned earlier, in Alberta it is funded until the age of 18.

We must make sure that regardless of where one lives in Canada, whether it is on the west coast, the east coast or in the Northwest Territories, all children who are affected by autism actually have the opportunity to receive the treatment they need throughout their lives until the age of 18.

I am sure this national strategy is going to ensure that we have the proper investment to do further research into whether there are other treatment options available and into how this type of condition can be prevented. We must invest in a comprehensive strategy to address this very complex disorder. (1420)

As I have mentioned, we know the cost is upwards of $70,000 per year, but we have to ensure we give the opportunity to these families so their children can obtain treatment and provide them with the quality of life they need. These families should be able to do this without having to mortgage their homes, or sell their cars, or go through those financial hardships. Many families that have been affected by autism simply cannot afford this treatment.

In April 2005 Justice Frances Kiteley of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the absence of treatment for ABA meant that children with autism were excluded from the opportunity to access learning with the consequential deprivation of skills. The likelihood of this type of isolation from our society would result in the loss of the ability for these young children to exercise their rights and freedoms to which Canadians are entitled.

Over the past 30 years, thousands of research documents have been published and have been peer-reviewed. These studies show that if these children receive the treatment they so much deserve, they will have a chance for purposeful and productive lives.

Many other constituents have come forward and have even sent out emails. I received another email just a few weeks back from a women in Manitoba. She talked about the fact that both of her sons were autistic. She described the hardship of having to sell her home to ensure that her children would get the type of care and treatment they needed. Today, her children are at the mercy of the school system because there is no legislation in Manitoba to ensure that these children receive the applied behaviour analysis treatment or the intensive behaviour intervention.

We all know that these children deserve better. They deserve the opportunity to go out there and learn. They deserve the opportunity to go out, become productive citizens and contribute to our social, economic and political fabric within our country. As a health care provider, I know the types of treatments these children receive have a very positive effect, not only for the families but also for those vulnerable children. All members and all parties of the House have the opportunity to really make a difference for these families and these children. We have an opportunity to support a national autism strategy, which would make a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of Canadians.

On behalf of our party, as the critic for health, we wholeheartedly support a national autism strategy. We commend the member of Parliament for Fredericton who has brought it forward. As was said earlier, this is a non-partisan issue that impacts thousands of families across the country. We need to have a strategy that will ensure we can further study this disorder, that we can have other effective treatment options come forward and that ensure those who require the care receive it.

On behalf of many members in my caucus of the Liberal Party, we fully and wholeheartedly support a creation of a national autism strategy for those thousands of young Canadians who are affected with autism. I hope we will have unanimous support in the House of Commons to adopt a national strategy on autism

I will not prejudge the outcome of this matter, either against, or in favor of, Ruby Dhalla. I do hope though that a serious investigation finds no wrongdoing on her part. Canada's autistic children need strong advocates like Ruby Dhalla, MP for Brampton-Springdale.

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Anonymous said...

Like you I hope the allegations are found to be without merit. And, like you, I want the truth to emerge, whatever that may be. This will only happen if the facts are examined as free as possible of political bias. I hope the police, or Immigration, or Labour, or the Ethics Commissioner, or some other body can achieve this quickly.

Marni Wachs said...

That is very unfortunate.

I wonder who could benefit from a slanderous campaign like this. Hmmmm, who could it be...someone or a group of someones that might benefit. ....I wouldn't put it past them!

The old bunch Mulroney etc. are being investigated for more cover-up shenanigans (Air India cover-up) and I just have to wonder about how far and how low it's possible to sink to achieve one's political goals, especially when threatened.

This is a hypothesis, not conclusion, but I just have to wonder! It's certainly odd that a private matter such as this was immediately vaulted to a front-page scandal.