Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Fredericton Autism Father Thanks MP Andy Scott

Brian Rimpilainen is a Fredericton father of an autistic child who has been a hard working advocate on behalf of autistic persons in New Brunswick and Canada. In this letter Brian offers his appreciation to Fredericton MP Andy Scott who steered a private member's motion through the House of Commons calling for a national autism strategy.

To MP Andy Scott and his staff, I offer my sincere thanks for all the work that has been done to raise the awareness of autism at the federal level.

I was very proud to be in attendance for the second hour of debate for motion 172. I had to wipe my teary eyes as I shared in the frustrations of other parents across Canada. I hope that the Liberal Caucus will continue in support of Andy Scott's efforts and move the issue forward.

It does indeed look as though there will be a new federal election in the future. I hope that autism will be raised for election debate. While M-172 passed with support from both sides of the House, Bill C-304 (introduced by the MP for Charlottetown) did not. This was a disappointing outcome, considering that all Members now know of the importance and urgency of a national autism strategy.

It is to my understanding that Scott will not be running in the next election. My best wishes to his family and future endeavours.



Japanese Study Finds No MMR Autism Connection

Evidence to support a connection between the MMR vaccine and incidents of autism is hard to come by. An epidemiological study in Japan found no connection. Tokio Uchiyama, Michiko Kurosawa and Yutaka Inaba, in a July 2006 study, found no evidence to support a causal relationship between the MMR and autism:

Abstract It has been suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is a cause of regressive autism. As MMR was used in Japan only between 1989 and 1993, this time period affords a natural experiment to examine this hypothesis. Data on 904 patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were analyzed. During the period of MMR usage no significant difference was found in the incidence of regression between MMR-vaccinated children and non-vaccinated children. Among the proportion and incidence of regression across the three MMR-program-related periods (before, during and after MMR usage), no significant difference was found between those who had received MMR and those who had not. Moreover, the incidence of regression did not change significantly across the three periods.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Evidence of Harm - The Sequel

In recent years theories that autism increases have been caused by either the MMR vaccine itself or thimerosal, the mercury based vaccine preservative, once more widely used, has dominated much public discussion of autism - despite an almost total lack of support for the vaccine causes autism theories amongst the world scientific community. But the controversy generated by the Wakefield study and the David Kirby/Robert Kennedy Jr anti-mercury campaigns has had an impact - on famlies already stressed by the realities of their children's autism and on a decline, at least temporarily, in the numbers of persons getting their children vaccinated against serious, dangerous diseases. Evidence of harm? You bet. Not the kind Kirby and Company rant about on the Huffington post though.

Study reveals impact of the MMR controversy on parents of children with autism
Medical Studies/Trials

Published: Thursday, 29-Mar-2007

Researchers have found that the MMR controversy caused parents of children with autism feelings of stress, guilt and frustration. Their study is published in Archives of Disease Childhood.

In the course of 10 focus group discussions across the UK between 2003 and 2005 involving 38 parents of children with autism, scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) discovered the effects of the uncertainty caused by the MMR controversy on these parents. Their aim was to assess how the parents had been affected and identify their specific needs to inform how these might be met in future debates around immunisation.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published an article in which they claimed to have found a link between the MMR vaccine and the onset of autistic spectrum disorder, although most of his co-authors subsequently disassociated themselves from the suggestion that there was a link between the vaccine and autism.

The controversy that followed affected parents' decision-making with regards to MMR vaccination. The Health Protection Agency's figures show immunisation rates across the UK population fell from 92% before the controversy, to 80% by 2003/04 ( Vaccination rates have since started to increase again as parental confidence in the vaccine has begun to recover. However, until now no research had looked at the impact of the MMR controversy on the parents of children with autism.

Dr Shona Hilton and her colleagues at the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow found that many parents of children with autism have come under great stress and pressure as a result of the scare.

Dr Hilton found that some have experienced agonising uncertainty as to whether the MMR vaccine may have provoked their child's or children's autism. Many have wondered whether they are to blame for their child's condition or felt they had "let their children down" by deciding to vaccinate. Even those who felt that their child's autism was not linked to the MMR vaccine, either because of family history or because they had avoided vaccination, had suffered as a result of the ambiguous advice they felt that they had received.

The discussions also showed that most parents found it extremely difficult to make subsequent decisions about further vaccination for their children with autism and later children. Many parents felt let down by health professionals and health visitors as well as GPs. This appeared to be a result of the lack of clarity and consistency in what they were told. It may also have been a result of the perceived lack of empathy with and understanding of the realities of caring for a child with autism.

Dr. Hilton said: "It is clear from a review of the literature that there has been a lack of follow-up of the impact of this health scare on those likely to be most directly affected - those living day in and day out with children with autism. These parents in particular have been under a huge amount of stress about the possible impact of their decision to vaccinate or not. Often, those they turned to for guidance and advice, their health visitors and GPs, were not able to provide them with the support they needed.

Dr Hilton added "we are planning to conduct further research into whether health professionals feel that they are well-enough equipped to deal with parents during such health controversies, and how they can be better-supported. We hope to be able to develop new information materials and to identify other support that health professionals need in the difficult task they face of communicating with parents at the height of any future health controversies."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pay Now or Pay Later - Canadian Senate Autism Funding Committee's Misnamed Report

If you read the title of the Standing Senate (Committee) on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Report of its Enquiry on Autism Funding you would think the Senators were well informed and got the message about the need to provide funding and support now for treatment and help for families with autistic family members. If you did though you would be wrong, dead wrong. The esteemed Senators bent over backwards not to offend a few anti-cure, anti-treatment crusaders and don't intrude on provincial jurisdiction politicians but did nothing to actually help families fighting for treatment, cure and care for their autistic loved ones. They actually took a backward step in one area when they regressed to the 1960's and recommended more study on the effectiveness of autism interventions. Thus the Canadian Senate now stands decades behind family services agencies in most Canadian provinces, state agencies in the US including New York, Maine and California, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, even the experts called by the BC government in the Auton case who testified that ABA was the treatment of choice. Congratulations Senators your report is a colossal tribute to doing nothing.

Far from offering insights into the realities of autism across the autism spectrum the distinguished Senators listened to a small number of high functioning autistic persons who do not see autism as a disorder. The Senators bought into the argument of anti-treatment anti-cure autistic persons appearing before them and making argument and failed to even ask who speaks for the many autistic persons who can not speak for themselves?

Thanks for nothing Senators. Help like yours is no help at all to Canadian families seeking help for their children, a mission you passed on.

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Final Report on:

The Enquiry on the Funding for the Treatment of Autism


Autism Families In Crisis

Chair : The Honourable Art Eggleton, P.C.
Deputy Chair : The Honourable Wilbert Joseph Keon

March 2007







A. Definition of Autism.. 3

B. Prevalence of Autism.. 4

C. Effectiveness of Interventions. 4

D. Need for Treatment 5


A. Access to Autism Treatment 7

B. Wait Time for Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment 8

C. Stresses on Families. 9

D. Insufficient Disability Supports. 9

E. Lack of Accurate Information on Autism and its Prevalence. 10

F. Need for Research. 11


A. Mechanism for Funding Autism Therapy. 13

B. Public Awareness Campaign. 14

C. Knowledge Exchange Centre. 15

D. Research. 16

E. Human Resources Initiative. 16

F. Mechanism to Ensure the Future Financial Security of Autistic Children. 17

G. The Income Tax Act as a Means to Reduce the Financial Burden of ASD families. 18

H. Consulting with Autistic Individuals and Others. 19

I. Need for a National Autism Strategy. 19




in Part III




The federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, establish a comprehensive National ASD Strategy;


All stakeholders, including individuals with autism, be consulted on the components that should be part of the Strategy, such as treatment, research, surveillance, awareness campaigns, community initiatives, education, respite care for families, etc.; and,


The Strategy include child, adolescent and adult treatments and supports.



The federal government convene a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference to examine innovative funding arrangements for the purpose of financing autism therapy;


The conference establish an appropriate level of funding by the federal government;


The conference identify measures of accountability in the use of federal funds for autism treatment;


The conference recommend listing of essential services for ASD; and,


The conference also define the feasibility of introducing measures such as supports for caregivers, including respite, family training and assistance, assisted living support as well as career and vocational training.



Health Canada, in consultation with autistic individuals and other stakeholders, implement a national public awareness campaign to enhance knowledge and understanding about ASD; and,


Health Canada use its dedicated webpage as one component of a public awareness campaign.


in Part III




The federal government provide funding for the creation of an Autism Knowledge Exchange Centre;


The Centre include an Internet-based web portal for access to reliable data and credible links for those seeking autism information;


The Centre be at arm’s length to government; and,


The Centre be mandated with the dissemination of best practices based on authoritative research and scientific consensus.



The federal government create an Autism Research Network and provide substantial new funding for this through CIHR; and,


The Autism Research Network work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including individuals with ASD, to develop a research agenda.



The federal government work collaboratively with the provinces and territories to address the human resource issues including training standards and inter-provincial mobility in the field of ASD.



The federal government, in implementing the recommendations of the Minister of Finance’s Expert Panel on Financial Security for Children with Severe Disabilities, ensure that autism qualifies as an eligible disability.



The Department of Finance and the Revenue Canada Agency study the implications of income splitting for ASD families and issue a report to the Minister of Finance by June 2008.


These departments issue the results of the tax measures review no later than 31 December 2007 and that these include a clear set of tax benefits for ASD individuals and their families.



Health Canada invite autistic individuals to attend the symposium and be given the opportunity to contribute as equal partners in an exchange with other participants and,


Health Canada ensure that the symposium is conducted with a clear set of goals and defined outcomes and is based on consensus building.



Extract form the Journals of the Senate of Thursday, June 22, 2006:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Munson calling the attention of the Senate to the issue of funding for the treatment of autism.

After debate,

The Honourable Senator Moore moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Banks:

That the Inquiry on the issue of funding for the treatment of autism be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for study and report; and

That the Committee submit its final report no later than November 30, 2006.

The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.


Extract from the Journals of the Senate of Monday, November 6, 2006.

The Honourable Senator Fraser moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Cook:

That, notwithstanding the Order of the Senate adopted on Thursday, June 22, 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology which was authorized to examine and report on the issue of funding for the treatment of autism, be empowered to extend the date of presenting its final report from November 30, 2006 to May 31, 2007.

After debate,

The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Paul C. Bélisle

Clerk of the Senate


The following Senators have participated in the study on the issue of funding for autism treatment of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology:

The Honourable Art Eggleton, P.C., Chair of the Committee

The Honourable Wilbert Joseph Keon, Deputy Chair of the Committee

The Honourable Senators:

Catherine S. Callbeck

Andrée Champagne

Ethel M. Cochrane

Joan Cook

Jane Mary Cordy

Joyce Fairbairn, P.C.

Jim Munson

Nancy Ruth

Lucie Pépin

Marilyn Trenholme Counsell

Ex-officio members of the Committee:

The Honourable Senators: Marjory LeBreton (or Gerald J. Comeau) and Céline Hervieux-Payette, P.C. (or Claudette Tardif)

Other Senators who have participated from time to time on this study:

The Honourable Senators: Gustafson, Mercer, Peterson, Rompkey, St-Germain and Watt.



Families with autistic children in Canada are facing a crisis. When a child is diagnosed with autism and therapy is prescribed by a health professional, publicly funded health care insurance does not pay for the cost of the therapy. As a result, families must often pay out of their own pockets for a very large portion of expensive autism therapy – whose cost may reach $60,000 per year – because provincial and territorial jurisdictions offer only limited financial assistance. Families with autistic children across the country are therefore calling on the federal government to take a leadership role with respect to autism. As a matter of comparison, they point to the Combating Autism Act of 2006 in the United States which authorizes the federal government to spend $US 945 million over five years for autism research, screening, intervention and education.

Text Box: (…) if you pay for it now, look at the return you will get on your investment. The people with autism will get out in the real world and get jobs, and that will stimulate the economy. Or you can pay later, which means they will go into group homes and it will cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the long run to keep them there. Jason Oldford, Fredericton, New Brunswick (12:32)Autism is a complex, lifelong, developmental disability which is 3 to 4 times more prevalent among boys than girls. Children and adults with autism may find it hard to communicate with others and to relate to the outside world. Autism can result in severe problems in social interaction, communication, and behaviour. A generation ago, the vast majority of the people with autism were eventually placed in institutions, while many others were misdiagnosed. Today, however, the picture is brighter. There is evidence to suggest that some people who have autism can improve significantly with proper therapy. When provided with appropriate support, training and information, families can often ensure that their son or daughter can enjoy a good quality of life. Autism therapy, along with autism-specific programs and services, provide the opportunity for individuals to be taught skills, which allow them to reach their fullest potential and contribute positively to society. Many individuals with autism eventually become more responsive to others as they learn to understand the world around them. They can learn to function at home and in the community and to develop skills that will enable them to secure and retain employment. Families with autistic children and autistic individuals themselves insist that governments must pay now for autism therapy, services and supports in order to obtain the greatest return on investment. Otherwise, they will pay later in terms of much higher costs in future years for welfare, social services and institutional care.

It is not the first time that the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has heard about the challenges of autism. Between 2003 and 2006, during its study on mental health, mental illness and addiction, the Committee had an opportunity to hear and learn from persons living with autism, their families and experts. We were made aware that autism is an extraordinarily complex issue that is also very controversial. At the time, however, we heard from some that autism should not be considered as a mental illness and accordingly decided that a more thorough investigation was required before taking a public position. For this reason, when the Committee released Out of the Shadows at Last in May 2006, the report did not contain recommendations with respect to autism. Nonetheless, our report did state that we hoped to undertake a thematic study on autism.

Within this context, in June 2006, the Committee received a mandate from the Senate to undertake an inquiry and to report on the issue of funding for the treatment of autism and on the need for a national autism strategy. In response to this mandate, the Committee held nine meetings and heard from 53 witnesses including autistic individuals, parents of autistic children, advocacy groups, health professionals, autism researchers, and selected federal department representatives, as well as one provincial minister. Witnesses also had the opportunity to discuss the announcement made on 21 November 2006 by the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Health, regarding a set of federal initiatives related to autism, and to share their views on recent parliamentary business related to autism, including:

· Bill C-211. This bill, which was introduced on 6 April 2006 by Peter Stoffer, Member of Parliament from Sackville-Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia) and is at first reading, calls on the federal government to include autism therapy under the Canada Health Act to ensure uniform and equitable access for all children with autism.

· Bill C-304: This bill, which was tabled on 17 May 2006 by Shawn Murphy, Member of Parliament for Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), but was defeated on 21 February 2007, proposed, like Bill C-211, to include autism therapy under the Canada Health Act. In addition, it required the Minister of Health to convene a conference of all provincial and territorial ministers of health for the purpose of working together to develop a national strategy for the treatment of autism.

· Motion M-172: This motion was introduced on 27 October 2006 by Andy Scott, Member of Parliament for Fredericton (New Brunswick) and adopted on 5 December 2006. The motion calls on the federal government to create a national autism strategy that would include: the development of evidence based standards for the diagnosis and treatment of autism; the implementation of innovative funding methods for the care of those with autism; the provision of additional federal funding for autism research; and, the implementation of a national surveillance program for autism.

In this report, the Committee summarizes the testimony heard during these hearings, highlights issues raised by witnesses and identifies action needed by the federal government in response to these issues.


The Committee heard many different points of view on the complex issue of autism. Contrasting views were presented with respect to the definition of autism, its prevalence, the effectiveness of various autism interventions, and the need for treatment. Sometimes, divergent opinions were highlighted among autistic individuals, advocacy groups and families. This makes it very difficult to achieve consensus and to identify potential options for policy considerations. For this reason, it is clear that any set of recommendations will not please everyone. At the same time however, this reinforces the call for a strong foundation of autism research and underscores the need for unbiased, accurate information through education, knowledge exchange and public awareness. This also suggests that consultations with all stakeholders including, perhaps most importantly, autistic individuals, are essential to policy decision-making.

A. Definition of Autism

The Committee was given two distinct definitions of autism. The first one, which was provided by numerous witnesses including researchers, health professionals, advocacy groups, parents and autistic individuals, refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4ed (DSM-IV). According to this definition, autism or “Autistic Disorder” is a mental illness and one of a group of five “Pervasive Developmental Disorders” (PDD). The other four include Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD). The Committee was also told that, in practice, reference is often made to “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD) which encompass Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and PDD-NOS. It is interesting to note, however, that ASD is not a term that is officially defined in any international medical classification codes. The DSM‑IV indicates that individuals with these disorders exhibit qualitative impairment in social interaction; restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities; and qualitative impairment in communication. Autism is described according to a spectrum with varying degrees of pervasive impairment that range from mild to severe.

The second definition presented to the Committee was provided by other autistic individuals and researchers in the field. In their view, autism (or ASD) is not a mental disorder; it is rather a neurological difference classified as a developmental disability that begins in early childhood and persists throughout adulthood. They explain that while autism may affect behaviours in three crucial areas of development – social interaction, communication, and restricted interests or repetitive behaviours – it also presents measurable and admirable differences in perception, attention, memory, intelligence, etc. In their view, autistic individuals have strengths and traits not seen in the general population, just like “non-autistics” have strengths and weaknesses of their own. Like non-autistic people, individuals with autism may suffer from mental health problems and illnesses, including for example depression, self-hate and suicidal ideation. Those mental health problems may be exacerbated by the lack of knowledge about and appreciation of autism among non-autistic individuals.

Text Box: (…) there is no universal guide to autism. There are countless different degrees of autism and different kinds of autism spectrum disorders. To truly get a universal understanding of autism, you would have to talk to thousands of individuals and families. (…) all Canadians with autism spectrums disorders are unique individuals with different strengths, skills, abilities and needs. Kristian Hooker, Selkirk, Manitoba (12:22)Despite these different definitions, the two groups acknowledge that no two individuals with autism are alike and that a wide range of approaches and interventions must be considered. In addition, they both acknowledge that no one knows the exact causes of ASD. The first group insists on the need for early and intensive behavioural intervention, while the second argues that autistic individuals should receive the assistance, accommodation, acceptance, and respect they need to succeed in society as autistic people. They all insist that treatment and support services must be provided throughout the lifespan of the individual.

B. Prevalence of Autism

Another area of contrasting opinion that arose during the Committee hearings relates to the prevalence of autism. Numerous witnesses suggested that there is an autism “epidemic”. Others argued that the increased prevalence is due to better identification of ASD and not to an increase in the actual incidence. The Committee heard that increased sensitivity to ASD, more accurate diagnoses as well as significant changes to diagnostic criteria may have contributed to the higher numbers.

It is unclear whether the actual prevalence of ASD is changing over time, but the number of diagnoses has been on the rise. Currently, the rate often cited for ASD in Canada is 6 per 1000, or 1 in 166 and is consistently detected 3 to 4 times more often in boys than in girls. This translates to about 48,000 autistic children aged 0 to 19 and 144,000 adults within Canada. Those who support the view of an increase in prevalence insisted that action must be taken now in providing publicly funded autism therapy, while others pointed to the need to invest more government funding into research to determine more adequately the prevalence and to assess the effectiveness of autism therapy.

C. Effectiveness of Interventions

Another area of disagreement which was also evident among the various advocacy groups/parents relates to the choice of autism interventions. Some witnesses argued that the only intervention options that should be made available to autistic children are Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) or Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI), while others favoured an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach, combining biomedical and nutritional treatments in addition to various forms of behavioural interventions. Still, others felt that there is no one approach that can be universally applied to all and that it should be left to the ASD professionals, in consultation with the family, to determine the best treatment option. The Committee heard that some treatment options have little, or no, scientific evidence of their efficacy and that some others have even been found harmful. Many witnesses, including some individuals with ASD, emphasized that funding should only be provided for treatments with a solid evidence-base. Again, this raises the question as to whether more funding should be devoted to research to improve knowledge about treatments and their effectiveness.

D. Need for Treatment

Text Box: (…) autistics should receive the assistance, accommodation, acceptance, and respect we need in order to succeed in society as autistic people. Michelle Dawson, Montréal Quebec, Brief to the Committee, p. 9.The Committee also heard differing opinions between autistic adults and the parents of autistic children with respect to the need for treatment. Parents want their children to receive intervention as soon as diagnosis is made, for as long and as intense as needed. Some autistic individuals, however, do not believe that early, intensive intervention is required. They explained that autism is not a degenerative condition and that, accordingly, autistic people do not inherently deteriorate or die in the absence of specific autism treatments. They also pointed out that many autistic individuals are able to learn and to communicate without intensive interventions. Moreover, they told the Committee that the nature of the treatment itself can deny or hamper particular abilities, strengths and traits of autistic individuals. Therefore, in establishing public policy, decisions about the nature and needs of autistic individuals should be made in consultation with autistic individuals and their families.


A. Access to Autism Treatment

The Committee was told that access to autism treatment is problematic for different reasons. For one, ABA/IBI, the most intensive form of intervention, is very expensive and can cost parents as much as $60,000 per year if no public funding is provided. These interventions are not exclusively “health services” but include a wide range of psychological, social and educational services. In addition, there is the jurisdictional aspect to consider when discussing the funding and provision of services. Witnesses stressed that provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the provision of autism interventions (either through the health, education, social and community service sectors), but they noted that the federal government has more ability to finance them through its spending power.

Text Box: ABA is an expensive treatment. You have probably heard the figure $60,000 per year per child. It is derived from 52 weeks a year at 40 hours a week at $30 an hour. Parents put themselves on the verge of bankruptcy when they have to pay for that treatment out of pocket. I certainly understand the situation they are in. I am amazed they can cover the treatment they need for their child and still pay the bills. How they do it, I do not know. Somehow, they get it done. Jason Oldford, Fredericton, New Brunswick (12:28)Currently, all provinces and territories, with the exception of Nunavut, provide some funding for autism therapy, most notably for ABA/IBI. There is, however, no national program that would ensure uniform and equitable access to therapy by autistic individuals. As a result, autism therapy is funded under a variety of approaches and the number of hours of therapy allowed and the amount of funding provided per child vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another. Witnesses urged that equitable and uniform access to treatment should be made across the country regardless of the individual’s ability to pay.

Witnesses spoke of the need for flexibility in treatment options as different approaches are needed for different individuals. There was a strong consensus that all available treatment approaches should be monitored for effectiveness and that treatment regimens should be provided based on scientific evidence. It was suggested that some treatments that are currently offered for ASD do not meet the rigors for scientific validation. For this reason, they stressed the need for properly designed, randomized and controlled clinical trials to evaluate the spectrum of therapies. It was also indicated that the individuals themselves who are being treated should be regularly monitored for progress and that ineffective therapy either be stopped or redesigned. In any case, harmful therapies should be discredited or even prohibited.

Numerous witnesses noted that autism treatment requires the participation of a multidisciplinary team. For example, medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and special education providers all have a vital role to play in ASD therapy. For many witnesses, early intervention is critical, regardless of the approach taken for treatment. The Committee also heard that another consideration is access to these services in both English and French and that the shortage of trained professionals is even greater for the francophone community living outside the province of Quebec.

Witnesses noted that that the recent announcement by the Minister of Health is only a “very modest first step” as it does not include any initiative related to the funding of autism therapy. This is despite the fact that the burden associated with the cost of autism therapy is the most pressing issue facing families with autistic children. For many witnesses, only a federal funding program would allow access to universal, equitable and uniform treatment in Canada.

B. Wait Time for Assessment, Diagnosis and Treatment

The Committee was told that access to autism treatment is not only impeded by its high cost and a lack of public funding, but that it is also significantly affected in some areas within Canada by a shortage of professional service providers. Witnesses explained that, in turn, this shortage has produced waiting times for assessment and diagnosis as well as for treatment. The Committee was made aware of the common, but unacceptable, experience of parents being unable to access timely assessment and diagnosis of their children. Witnesses spoke of the frustration of waiting months, if not years, to obtain the ASD diagnosis, only to find the child was now too old to qualify for publicly funded treatment. Witnesses also spoke of the irony of placing children in the privately funded stream due to the long waits in the public queue, only to be turned down for public funding later as the treatment produced such advances in the child that they now no longer qualified.

Another factor associated with longer waiting times relates to the expansion of eligibility for autism therapy to an increasing number of children. For example, the Committee was told that when Ontario decided to continue public funding for IBI therapy beyond age six, waiting lists for IBI therapy in that province grew substantially. The Committee was told that in Alberta, despite parents obtaining direct public funding for therapy, children cannot access treatment because there is a shortage of service providers. It heard that in contrast, Ontario has invested in increasing service provider capacity and does not have a shortage at this time, but the provincial government currently lacks the money to fund the therapy. The Committee was told that there is a fear that those who received autism training in Ontario may be enticed to move to Alberta.

Therefore, in some jurisdictions, like Ontario, additional federal funds could help alleviate some of the wait for publicly funded treatment. In other jurisdictions, such as Alberta where there is a shortage of providers, adding more public funding would have no immediate impact. After all, additional funds for treatment will not be helpful if there is no one to provide the therapy. In this case, there must be sustained capacity-building to attract, train and retain specially trained professionals, such as, but not limited to, child psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and special educators. Witnesses saw a role for the federal government in such an endeavour in terms of developing appropriate guidelines and standards for professional training.

Witnesses also stressed that mainstream medical practitioners are often too busy and not adequately trained about autism or the available therapy options. They also talked about teachers and assistants who are not properly trained to accommodate autistic children. Where training is made available for educators, it is not mandatory. Witnesses suggested that care of some autistic children in the hands of untrained personnel may create a dangerous scenario.

C. Stresses on Families

The Committee heard from many parents and advocacy groups about the tremendous emotional stresses and financial challenges faced by families with autistic children. Witnesses spoke of the devastation for parents and siblings who struggle to find ways to best accommodate the special needs of an individual with ASD. The Committee was told that families must often adapt their whole lifestyle to the needs of their ASD child. Witnesses frequently reported that there needed to be one stay-at-home parent to provide the necessary comfort and consistency, not to mention added support and intervention. Moreover, it is often necessary to have extra help within the home or at school. The Committee was also told that in the course of hiring treatment providers, who often provide treatment in the home setting, parents suddenly discover that they have become employers and are essentially operating a clinic.

Some witnesses stated that families “are bleeding” and that help is needed right now, not just for autistic children, but for parents and siblings as well. Needed supports are varied and include such things as respite care and home-care aid.

D. Insufficient Disability Supports

The Committee was told that the federal government offers a variety of financial supports that are applicable to individuals with ASD or their parents. In 2004-2005, the federal government invested $7.6 billion in income support, tax measures and programs for people with disabilities. Income support is primarily available through the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits. As well, there are tax measures such as the Disability Tax Credit, the Medical Expense Tax Credit and the Child Disability Benefit. In the 2006 budget, the government increased the annual Child Disability Benefit from $2,044 to $2,300 and the medical expense supplement was increased to $1,000 from $767. In addition, the Committee was told that additional federal funding for disability supports and services is provided under the Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer. However, numerous witnesses shared the view that this support is insufficient given the diverse and substantial needs they have, and that ASD is not always eligible for tax credits or deductions intended for disability or medical expenses.

E. Lack of Accurate Information on Autism and its Prevalence

Text Box: A big problem with people facing ASD in society is that others often have a stereotype of how a person with ASD is supposed to look or behave. Many people with ASD could eliminate that stereotype but rarely get that opportunity, especially with a large group of people. The one thing that people should realize about people with ASD is that we are really no different from anyone else. We may have traits or abilities that seem unique or different but so does everyone else. Kristian Hooker, Selkirk, Manitoba (12:24)Several witnesses told the Committee that many Canadians do not understand what autism is; this makes it difficult for them to know how to interact with and accommodate autistic individuals and their families. An awareness campaign was suggested in order to enhance the public understanding of autism. Lack of understanding may also extend to professionals who would benefit from ongoing education to ensure that children are not mislabelled and improperly assessed. Minister Clement recently announced that Health Canada will create a dedicated page on its website to guide the public to ASD information available through the Canadian Health Network and other resources. Given the contrasting views and opinions about ASD and autism therapy, it will be crucial for the department to consult all interested parties to ensure that ASD information is presented in an unbiased fashion.

Text Box: Generally speaking, autism-related sites lag way behind what is really happening. They contain a lot of obsolete information, which but adds to the confusion of parents and adults. Adults come to us, at the association, with all kinds of explanations that simply do not hold water. This is due to the fact that the information posted on sites is not updated. Brigitte Harrisson, Quebec (12:35)Text Box: The first requirement of any website on autism should be that a person be in charge of keeping it up to date. Given the speed with which knowledge is moving forward in this day and age, this is a must. It is essential to take every precaution before disseminating information. Sources must be verified, in order to avoid having statements such as autism is a mental illness or some other qualifier such as that which I heard earlier and which I will attempt to forget. It is important that all sources be verified. I could never repeat this often enough: It is essential to go through autistic people themselves and not just those surrounding them, observing them and basing their reactions on their fears. Brigitte Harrisson, Quebec (12:35-36)Witnesses also signalled the poor data on prevalence. They suggested that there are inadequate surveillance systems to obtain the required data. They discussed the National Epidemiological Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC), which aims to determine whether the prevalence is increasing. This project conducts surveys only within various regions of Canada however, and therefore cannot be expected to supply comprehensive surveillance data. Minister Clement informed the Committee that his recent announcement includes the launch of a consultation process on the feasibility of developing an ASD surveillance program through the Public Health Agency of Canada. This was also suggested in Motion 172 by Andy Scott, M.P. Witnesses welcomed this initiative.

Numerous witnesses complained that there is currently no dedicated, central source of information on autism and autism therapy. A vast body of information exists but it is not being made readily available in terms that are clear and concise that the general public can appreciate. Witnesses frequently stated that the parents of autistic children are forced to navigate through a very complex web of information with little help. They suggested that there is an abundance of inaccurate information as well as considerable accurate information with no way for individuals to distinguish between them. This can be particularly harmful since families impacted by autism are willing to soak up any and all information they can find. As such, they emphasized that there is a need for a centralized, unbiased and credible source for information, a need for knowledge exchange and for effective communication of research findings.

F. Need for Research

Research has a vital role to play in the provision of reliable information. According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), funding for autism-specific research has increased from just over $1 million in 2000-2001, to $3.5 million 2005-2006. In total, CIHR invested some $15 million during this period. The Committee also heard that Genome Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Health Canada invest federal funds into autism research. Witnesses commented on the excellence of the Canadian autism research community, highlighting the collaborative spirit and collegiality. They insisted, however, that additional resources are necessary so that promising theories and hypotheses can be tested. It was also explained that autism research is not an area that lends itself to industry investment and that private donations to charitable organizations that fund research, though generous and vital, are not sufficiently stable from one year to the next. For these reasons, witnesses suggested that funding by the federal government in a substantial and on-going manner is imperative.

The Committee heard of promising programs such as that funded jointly by the CIHR, the National Alliance for Autism Research (now called Autism Speaks) and the Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec which will train the next generation of autism researchers. Despite this promising initiative, witnesses stressed that much more is needed in the way of training more researchers as well as promoting a multidisciplinary approach to research.

The announcement by Minister Clement, in contrast to Motion 172 which calls for additional federal funding on autism research, only includes the possibility of establishing a new research chair focusing on effective treatment and intervention for ASD. The research community welcomed this government decision but, much like the advocacy groups, they insisted on the need for additional autism research funding for areas such as the incidence, causes, effective screening tools, and treatment development including psychopharmacological and psychosocial interventions. Witnesses stressed the importance of distinguishing between short-, medium- and long-term needs when establishing research priorities.


the Committee is encouraged by recent steps taken by the federal government to address autism concerns. However, it also heard the frustration expressed by many witnesses that both the recent announcement of Minister Clement and the private motion (M-172) by Andy Scott, M.P., regarding the creation of a National Autism Strategy do not commit to specific actions. The Committee wants to recommend a number of urgent initiatives that the federal government should implement over the next two years in response to the challenges faced by ASD individuals and their families. These initiatives will reduce the stresses for those affected by ASD as well as increase our knowledge base for this developmental disability.

A. Mechanism for Funding Autism Therapy

Text Box: If the federal government truly became the leader, while still intending to transfer the program to the provinces later on, it would be worthwhile for it to set the example and to keep autistic people involved in the treatment protocols. Allow me to repeat myself: It is really important that those autistic persons who are autonomous, who are capable of helping, do so. The need is an urgent one. This is what we are seeing. Therefore, if you are able to launch something, if you set the tone, then the provinces will obviously be able to jump on board afterwards. Brigitte Harrisson, Quebec (12:20)The Committee’s primary focus was federal funding for autism treatment. Many witnesses stressed the urgent need to immediately provide extra financial resources for families who insist they need to access very costly ASD therapy. Some suggested that the government in fact had a moral obligation to do so.

The provision of health care, education and social services, including those relevant to ASD, are provincial/territorial responsibilities with federal funds being provided for these in the forms of the Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer. Although federal funds make up a substantial portion of the budgets in these areas, the provinces and territories have the sole authority to decide how the money is spent. Numerous witnesses supported the private member bills C-211 (Peter Stoffer, M.P.) and C-304 (Shawn Murphy, M.P.) and suggested that ABA/IBI should be included as medically necessary services under the Canada Health Act in order to ensure universal and free access to autism therapy across the country. However, the Committee recognizes that the Act is not an appropriate mechanism to ensure federal funding for ABA and IBI therapies. The reality is that the Act does not refer to any specific disease, condition or treatment. Moreover, the medically necessary services defined under the Canada Health Act are those provided by physicians or other health care practitioners either in hospitals or doctors’ offices, which is not the case for autism therapy.

The Committee considered other funding mechanisms to assist the provinces and territories in financing autism treatment. The proposed catastrophic prescription drug insurance program, recommended by this Committee in October 2002 in its report entitled The Health of Canadians – The Federal Role, Volume 6: Recommendations for Reform, which aims to ensure that families do not suffer undue financial hardship for required drug therapy provides one model. Families with autistic children, because of the extremely high cost of ABA/IBI therapies, could benefit from a similar program that provides financial assistance when costs exceed a pre-determined proportion of the family income. Witnesses, however, did not comment on the potential benefits of such a proposal.

Therefore, the pressures and challenges experienced by families coping with the demands of caring for a child or children with ASD result in considerable stress. The Committee believes that the financial burden on these families and caregivers is excessive and a solution must be found.

Text Box: In developing a funding policy for autism, it is important that adults are an integral part of the equation and that more able is not translated to mean less needy of supports and services. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. Daniel Hatton, Hamilton, Ontario Brief to the Committee, p. 1.Another issue that was raised during the hearings was the need for additional supports such as supports for caregivers, including respite, family training and assistance, and assisted living support. There is a need to study the feasibility of introducing such measures. Witnesses also underscored that the needs of autistic adults must be taken into consideration when it comes to education, vocational training and employment (currently done by Social Development Canada with Opportunities Fund for People with Disabilities).

Witnesses suggested that concerns over funding arrangements could be initially addressed at a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference. This was suggested under the private motion by Andy Scott that was recently passed. This motion also states that innovative funding methods should be developed. The need for a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference is also acknowledged in Shawn Murphy’s private member bill C-304. Therefore, the Committee finds that it is urgent that the federal government assume a leadership role and recommends that:

The federal government convene a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference to examine innovative funding arrangements for the purpose of financing autism therapy;

The conference establish an appropriate level of funding by the federal government;

The conference identify measures of accountability in the use of federal funds for autism treatment;

The conference recommend listing of essential services for ASD; and,

The conference also define the feasibility of introducing measures such as supports for caregivers, including respite, family training and assistance, assisted living support as well as career and vocational training.

B. Public Awareness Campaign

Throughout the course of the hearings on this difficult subject, witnesses identified a clear need for a national public awareness campaign. The Committee agrees that there is a general lack of understanding among Canadians about autism and its spectrum of disabilities and feels that a greater understanding of ASD by all Canadians could help to reduce the stress experienced by these individuals and their families. The general population should be made aware of the associated early signs and symptoms in order that parents might pursue assessment of their child at the youngest possible age. Such a campaign could also serve as a tool to promote the Knowledge Exchange Centre (discussed below). The Committee therefore recommends that:

Health Canada, in consultation with autistic individuals and other stakeholders, implement a national public awareness campaign to enhance knowledge and understanding about ASD; and,

Health Canada use its dedicated webpage as one component of a public awareness campaign.

C. Knowledge Exchange Centre

There was a consensus among witnesses about the need to consolidate areas of education, clinical expertise and research endeavours to enhance and facilitate collaborative efforts. The Committee sees a need for a clearinghouse of “best practices” (including international experiences) which would allow each province or territory to develop or enhance its own services. It would also serve as the means to provide families with an unbiased source of accurate information including current research findings. Families affected by ASD are already under considerable stress and the Committee asserts that it is unfair to make them spend their precious resources and what little time they have wondering what to do, where to go for help, what help to get, whom to trust and whom to believe. A focal point for ASD information, provided by a trusted source, would save individuals from navigating the current confusing and unreliable maze and could sort out the accurate from inaccurate information.

As a corollary, there is a need to provide the centralized infrastructure for the dissemination of information that is helpful, accurate and supportive and to put scientific findings into plain language. The Committee heard that the university setting might be most appropriate as it is often viewed as unbiased and trustworthy.

Thus, the Committee recommends that:

The federal government provide funding for the creation of an Autism Knowledge Exchange Centre;

The Centre include an Internet-based web portal for access to reliable data and credible links for those seeking autism information;

The Centre be at arm’s length to government; and,

The Centre be mandated with the dissemination of best practices based on authoritative research and scientific consensus.

D. Research

The Committee sees a need for a significant investment in research into autism. Although there has been considerable work in the research community there are still many areas that need to be more fully explored. The Committee believes that there is a clear role for the government to fund research that will explore the causes of autism, develop treatment models, establish new treatment methods, determine treatment suitability, refine treatment approaches for older children and adults and develop appropriate evaluation tools so that treatment effectiveness can be properly measured.

The Committee is aware that CIHR is prepared to take the lead in a federal autism research program and work with all partners and stakeholders in order to define the priorities. It is important for CIHR to work inclusively with such partners as the Autism Society Canada, Autism Speaks and the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network to develop a comprehensive research agenda. The development of this agenda should: include multidisciplinary research teams; encourage more programs that train autism researchers; provide the long-term, randomized, controlled trials required to properly measure treatment effectiveness; facilitate collaboration; and, include public policy research. Moreover, CIHR must also consult with autistic individuals in identifying priorities.

As such, the Committee recommends that:

The federal government create an Autism Research Network and provide substantial new funding for this through CIHR; and,

The Autism Research Network work collaboratively with all stakeholders, including individuals with ASD, to develop a research agenda.

E. Human Resources Initiative

The Committee heard repeatedly that shortages exist across Canada in various specialty fields. In addition, witnesses indicated that teachers and medical practitioners should be better trained to spot signs and symptoms of ASD in order that an assessment can be ordered in a timely fashion. Witnesses contended that the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to autism assessment, diagnosis, treatment, training, education and research cannot be overstated. Some suggested that the multi-disciplinary teams should be supervised by a regulated health care professional. Others indicated that more of the professional groups involved should be certified by a regulatory body. Further, the Committee heard that more must be done to increase enrolment for the training of all relevant social services and education professionals (including supports for special training for teachers/aides, life skills programs, mental health services professionals), to encourage recruitment, and to optimize retention of these individuals, including perhaps improved remuneration.

The shortage of human resources is of paramount concern in the context of extending autism therapy. Some witnesses spoke of the need to establish a national training centre for autism therapy. Although it is not an area that lends itself easily to federal intervention, the Committee understands that this needs to be resolved before additional funds for treatment would be optimally beneficial.

While respecting the jurisdictional constraints in this area, the Committee recommends that:

The federal government work collaboratively with the provinces and territories to address the human resource issues including training standards and inter-provincial mobility in the field of ASD.

F. Mechanism to Ensure the Future Financial Security of Autistic Children

Although the main focus of the Committee’s study was on today’s needs of autism families, parents also expressed their concern about the future of their autistic children when they will no longer be there to care for them. The issue regarding the future financial security of children with severe disabilities was addressed in a recent report commissioned by the Minister of Finance. The report, entitled A New Beginning, recommended one new fiscal measure under the Income Tax Act – the Registered Disability Savings Plan – and two related new legislated programs – the Disability Savings Grant and the Canada Disability Bond Program. The Registered Disability Savings Plan would be modelled after the current Registered Education Savings Plan and would involve no restrictions on who could contribute to the plan (families, friends and strangers); it would have a lifetime contribution limit of $200,000. The Disability Savings Grants would be modelled after the existing Canada Education Savings Grant. It would be equivalent to 20% of the annual amount contributed to the Registered Disability Savings Plan, for the first $2,000 per year of contributions. Finally, the Canada Disability Bond would be broadly modelled after the Canada Learning Bond provisions currently in effect; it would provide low income families with at least $1,000 per year for the first 20 years of the registration under the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

Parents of autistic children welcome these three measures. They explained that other family members and friends often provide financial assistance to pay for autism therapy and that making them eligible as contributors under the Registered Disability Savings Plan was a sound recommendation. Some witnesses expressed concern about the lifetime contribution limit set at $200,000 and recommended that this ceiling be removed. However, Mr. James Barton Love, Chair of the Expert Panel, explained that this limit had been recommended to ensure that contributors would not benefit from excessive income referral. Another issue related to the treatment of the contributions under the Registered Disability Savings Plan by provincial social assistance plans. It was explained these contributions could disqualify a person with disabilities from receiving provincial benefits or could reduce the payments to be made under social assistance programs. To address this concern, it is essential that federal and provincial negotiations be initiated with a view to having contributions under the Registered Disability Savings Plan entirely exempted from the asset test in provincial social assistance programs.

The Committee welcomes the recommendations of the Expert Panel and is pleased that the government accepted them and announced the Registered Disability Savings Plan in Budget 2007. It supports the federal government in this attempt to enable parents to set aside funds today to financially support children with disabilities when they are no longer able to provide support. Moreover, the Committee feels that the report of the Expert Panel responds particularly well to the concerns of parents about the future of their autistic children. Therefore, the Committee recommends that:

The federal government, in implementing the recommendations of the Minister of Finance’s Expert Panel on Financial Security for Children with Severe Disabilities, ensure that autism qualifies as an eligible disability.

G. The Income Tax Act as a Means to Reduce the Financial Burden of ASD families

Another option that was explored during our autism study included tax breaks to families with autistic children. The Committee acknowledges that the federal government does currently offer tax credits or deductions to benefit those affected by ASD, such as the Disability Tax Credit and the Medical Expense Tax Credit. Although Committee members heard little testimony as to the extent that these tax credits are available to ASD families, they did hear that the tax treatment of expenditures related to autism under the federal Income Tax Act does little in alleviating the enormous financial burden faced by families due to the cost of autism therapy. This is particularly true for those with low or no taxable income.

In addition, the Committee heard repeatedly during its hearings that ASD families often have a single income earner because the second parent must stay home to care for the affected child or children. Frequently, the earning parent must also take on a second job in order to pay the high cost of ASD care and treatment. Witnesses explained that this results in pushing the income earner into a higher tax bracket, reducing the effect of the medical expense tax credit. The Committee heard that income splitting would be one way of assisting these struggling families. Therefore, the Committee recommends that:

The Department of Finance and the Revenue Canada Agency study the implications of income splitting for ASD families and issue a report to the Minister of Finance by June 2008.

The Committee also heard about current restrictions that prevent the roll over of RRSPs and RRIFs of family members into absolute discretionary trusts for individuals with ASD. These trusts are designed to protect the assets of the individual as well as their disability benefits and entitlements. Members feel strongly that any tax, or other financial relief, that is created for persons with ASD and their families, should not have a negative impact on their disability benefits and entitlements. This position was taken, in the context of all persons living with disabilities, in the report Disability Tax Fairness. This report was submitted to the Ministers of Finance and National Revenue in December 2004 by the Technical Advisory Committee on Tax Measures for Persons with Disabilities. The Committee applauds the government for having implemented all of the policy recommendations made in this report, but we are concerned that no action has yet been taken with respect to allowing an RRSP or RRIF roll over into a discretionary trust for a disabled person. The government indicated in early 2005 that it would “conduct a review of the tax rules in this area with a view to providing more flexibility where appropriate”. This review is still on-going.

Therefore, the Committee also recommends that:

These departments issue the results of the tax measures review no later than 31 December 2007 and that these include a clear set of tax benefits for ASD individuals and their families.

H. Consulting with Autistic Individuals and Others

The Committee appreciates that the complexity of this issue cannot be efficiently and effectively resolved without extensive consultation with all stakeholders. The diversity of opinions about the nature of autism, its prevalence, the effectiveness of treatments and interventions, etc., requires considerable consensus building in order to identify priorities and achieve common goals. Consensus building can be achieved only through ongoing consultations with all interested parties. In particular, the perspective of autistic individuals needs to be included.

Text Box: At that national symposium I would like nothing better than to see people with autism being invited to speak. Jason Oldford, Fredericton, New Brunswick (12:33)In his announcement, the Minister of Health stated that Health Canada will sponsor an ASD stakeholder symposium in 2007 to “encourage the development and sharing of ASD knowledge among health care professionals, researchers, community groups, teachers, individuals and families.” The Committee welcomes this announcement, however would like to reiterate the need for input from all stakeholders, including autistic Canadians. We insist that this symposium must take place sooner rather than later.

Therefore, the Committee supports the symposium announced by the government and recommends that:

Health Canada invite autistic individuals to attend the symposium and be given the opportunity to contribute as equal partners in an exchange with other participants and,

Health Canada ensure that the symposium is conducted with a clear set of goals and defined outcomes and is based on consensus building.

I. Need for a National Autism Strategy

Finally, and most importantly, the Committee wants to see the recommendations described above implemented as part of a National Autism Strategy. Autism is a very complex issue and it is extremely difficult to efficiently and completely address all of the parameters involved. Members of the Committee agree that the solution does not exist in a tidy policy package and that whatever approach is taken should be done within a forum that has a clear authority to effect change and that avoids inter-departmental and inter-governmental “turf-wars.” No matter how a National Autism Strategy is structured, witnesses were clear that individuals with ASD must be included in the consultation and play a role within the Strategy itself, that it receive adequate ongoing funding, that it span the lifetime of affected individuals and that it strive to achieve consistency across the country in terms of information dissemination, assessment, treatments and supports. Therefore, the Committee recommends that:

The federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, establish a comprehensive National ASD Strategy;

All stakeholders, including individuals with autism, be consulted on the components that should be part of the Strategy, such as treatment, research, surveillance, awareness campaigns, community initiatives, education, respite care for families, etc.; and,

The Strategy include child, adolescent and adult treatments and supports.


Members of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology are profoundly aware of the challenges facing those with autism and their families. We are encouraged by recent events such as the motion in Parliament to explore autism treatment funding, the government’s announcement regarding autism initiatives, and the establishment of the Mental Health Commission in Budget 2007. However, all members agree that the federal government must act now to assist these Canadians. The Committee fully supports the view expressed by families with autistic children and autistic individuals themselves that governments must pay now; otherwise, they will pay later. We believe that the latter is simply not an option.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Autism Dad's Concerns About Role of Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons

Following is a letter I forwarded to the Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons. New Brunswick has just spent the last few 2-3 years reviewing its inclusive education system which has focussed on mainstream classroom inclusion for all students. As mentioned in the letter this approach does not work for ALL students including some autistic students such as my son. Our Education Department HAS provided for exceptions for students such as my son,providing an alternate learning environment and when available trained Teachers' Aides. The Department is now working to improve the deficit of trained personnel to work with our many autistic school children. But it makes no sense to engage in a review and make services available if educators and parents are pressured to place all children in the mainstream classroom regardless of whether they are well served by such placement.

Sent: March 28, 2007 11:43 AM
Subject: Inclusive Education Quiz

March 28 2007

Mr. Randy Dickinson and
Mr. Gary Comeau
Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons

Re "Quiz Contest Promotes Inclusive Education in New Brunswick (07/03/22)"

I am the father of an 11 year old profoundly autistic boy. I participated both as an individual parent and as the representative of two provincial autism organizations at different stages of the Mackay Inclusive Education review process. I currently sit as the Autism Society New Brunswick representative on the Ministerial Committee on Inclusive Education.

At this time, I express my own personal views, in stating that I take exception to the use of the office and resources of the Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons to promote one view of the merits of a full inclusion system in New Brunswick schools. There are many diverging points of view with respect to the emphasis on mainstream classroom inclusion for all students regardless of disability or ability.

Some profoundly autistic children are overwhelmed by classroom environment stimulation and require a quieter learning environment where they learn a different curriculum by different teaching methods than children their own age. Other disability organizations have also expressed some reservations about the over emphasis on full mainstream inclusive education. One of the great disadvantages of the inclusion revolution which has dominated New Brunswick schools for the past 30 years has been the lost of specialized expertise in teaching children with specific disabilities a problem which is currently being addressed for autistic children by the training of Teachers' Aides and Resource Teachers at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program.

Reducing these complex issues to a quiz format with correct answers being those which support the status quo emphasis on mainstream classroom inclusion for all is, in my view, an inappropriate use of public resources of your office.


Harold L Doherty

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Spectrum of Perspectives About Autism

Much of what passes for discussion of autism issues on the internet is either congratulatory back slapping and in group high fives or it is bitter acrimonious sniping. I have been pleased over the last few days to be able to engage in rational e-mail discussion with Lisa Jo Rudy of About Ms. Rudy is the parent of a higher functioning autistic child. My son is diagnosed with a lower functioning classic Autism Disorder. Her site tends to feature links to several prominent anti-autism cure, neurodiversity blog sites such as Autism Vox, Neurodiversity, Autism Hub, Autism Diva, Mom-NOS etc.

Notwithstanding her affinity for the neurodiversity perspective and my aversion to that socio-political movement we were able to exchange views rationally on such topics as curing autism, autism realities etc. I give Ms. Rudy most of the credit for that. She has also taken the generous step of referencing my perspective and this blog site on About actions which I genuinely appreciate. I thank Ms. Rudy for her calm rational discussion of autism issues with someone from outside the neurodiversity perspective. Ms. Rudy's words about a spectrum of autism perspectives are worth remembering.

A Spectrum of Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum
If autism is a spectrum disorder, then it seems reasonable that there should be a spectrum of perspectives on that disorder. At one end of that spectrum are the neurodiversity advocates who feel that autism is a difference to be celebrated; on the other end are those who work toward and advocate a cure for autism. Both groups are passionate, and both believe deeply in their own points of view - with some people, like me, sharing elements from both perspectives.

Harold Doherty is a Canadian blogger and the father of a young man with classic autism. Having seen some of the more frightening ways in which the world can treat a person with profound autism, he believes strongly in the importance of seeking treatments and potential cures. All this while supporting and loving his son:

"I love my son dearly. I have just returned from walking about our community with him, enjoying his company. As I typed this note he very affectionately grabbed me from behind and hugged me - while squeezing forcefully on my windpipe. He did so without any aggressive intent but without understanding the potential consequences of his actions.

That is autism reality."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Strange Son Online Autism Community - A Welcome Autism Internet Addition

We are forming a new online social network to connect people who want to share their knowledge and/or learn about helping kids with autism communicate better. You can upload videos, exchange information on the Community Forum or share your experience on your personal Blog. Please join us in our ‘grassroots’ movement to help non-verbal and “low-communicating” kids with autism to communicate better and get a better education!

As the above excerpt sets out, Strange Son author Portia Iversen has established an online community to help non-verbal & low-communicating children with autism. This is a very welcome addition to the internet autism world which to date has been largely dominated by persons advocating AGAINST autism treatment and cure, even mention of the realities of life faced by lower functioning autistic persons. I encourage parents and caregivers of persons with low functioning, non-communicative autistic children to visit the site and join the community.

Thanks to Lisa Jo Rudy at About for bringing this site to my attention.

Athletes Against Autism

"With the diagnosis of autism comes shock, but then comes the nightmare of trying to figure where to turn. ... You can just give up and quit, but then quitting will only get easier,"

- Olie Kolzig

The Montreal Gazette is carrying an informative article on Olie Kolzig, goaltender with the NHL Washington Capitals, and founder of Athletes Against Autism. Mr. Kolzig was sporting the blue puzzle piece pin of Autism Speaks which is a world leader in creating autism awareness and generating funds for research and treatment.

"A developmental disorder of the central nervous system, autism for Kolzig is more than a unique lapel pin. It is the life mission for the Capitals goaltender, its reminders as near as his own 6-year-old son, Carson.

The boy's affliction has changed the life of Kolzig and his wife, Christin, also parents to Kendall, 4, and Ashlyn, 3. But the NHL all-star has chosen to look beyond his own home to also make a difference for thousands of children and adults he'll never know.

The autistic are affected, often severely, in their ability to communicate or interact socially with others. Children are ridiculed or cruelly excluded by their peers, making adolescence a horribly difficult time.

Kolzig is putting his fame to excellent use, having co-founded Athletes Against Autism (AAA), under the umbrella of Cure Autism Now (CAN). He is joined by friends and fellow NHLers Byron Dafoe and Scott Mellanby, also fathers of autistic children.

The group's goal, leaning on the celebrity of its three leaders and the support of many others, is to raise awareness and money for autism research, treatment and education programs.


With a strong body of famous athletes and plenty of resolve, AAA continues to grow, speaking with a clear, passionate voice that's increasingly being heard by decision-makers."

The Athletes Against Autism website can be found at:

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Autism Acceptance Project - Rejecting Reality

The Autism Acceptance Project is one of the more recent rhetorical adventures of the anti-cure, autism is wonderful, movement also known as neurodiversity. If I sound cynical it is because I am. With a son with classic Autism Disorder who is profoundly autistic I, unlike the TAAP people, can not afford the luxury of wishful thinking. I am not seeking help for my son's many positive attributes. I am seeking help for his negative attributes, the very serious, even life threatening deficits, which impair his quality of life, and will lead to a life of being cared for by others, just as they do for many other lower functioning, inarticulate autistic persons who are not represented in the Neurodiversity discussion groups. The TAAP folks object to candid description of unpleasant truths.

They react hysterically when parents seeking help for their own autistic children speak the truth. Witness the verbal abuse heaped by them on the parents of the Autism Every Day video. I will not stop speaking the truth while the TAAP and neurodiversity crowd write pseudo-scientific critiques dismissing evidence based standards of treatment for autism and condemning truthful portraits of classic lower functioning Autism Disorder.

If the neurodiversity crowd wants to paint a more positive picture for art galleries and society teas fine. Let them petition the American Psychiatric Association to change the names of higher functioning autism disorders to some other labels so that they do not have to be associated with the lower functioning classic Autism Disorder people like my son. That should ease their acceptance goals considerably. They can feel good about themselves and their friends in the neurodiversity movement. Those of us fighting for real help for our autistic children can do so without the annoying sounds of Autism's sirens singing in the background.

Politics Blocs Help for Autism - Quebec

The motion by Charlottetown Liberal MP Shawn Murphy which would have amended the Canada Health Act to ensure funding for ABA treatment for autism was defeated by an alliance between the Harper Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. Mr. Harper and his Autism Front Man, Edmonton area MP Mike Lake, a father of an autistic child, argued that such an amendment would have constituted an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. The Bloc in order to justify its existence in a federal parliament must be seen as fighting federalist intrusions into any aspect of Quebec life. But what did it cost Quebec children with autism for Quebec's purported separatists to grandstand and obstruct in the name of political ideology? Are Quebec children with autism different than children with autism outside Quebec? Is the Quebec government so wealthy that all autistic children are fully funded for effective ABA treatment?

The answer to both of these questions is "No" as the following excerpt from the CASLPA Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists presentation to the Canadian Senate makes clear:


The standard of care for ASD in Quebec is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), but given that ABA is an intensive, one-on-one program involving roughly 20 hours of therapy a week, the province does not have sufficient resources to provide every autistic child with ABA when the treatment is needed.

In Quebec, the waiting list for ABA can be anywhere from six months to a year after diagnosis. This is challenging for hospital staff as speech-language pathologists are there to assist with the diagnosis but there is not any on-going mandate to provide treatment. Frustration with ABA waiting lists has caused speech-language pathologists and psychiatrists to seek out more cost-effective therapeutic alternatives, such as intervention programs that are designed to help parents support language development in their autistic children.

Unfortunately for Quebec's autistic children politics Bloc'd a serious effort to provide funding for the effective ABA treatment their parents seek on their behalf.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

(Some) Maine Parents of Children with Autism Embrace DAN Treatment Protocol

The Bangor Daily News is reporting on Maine parents of autistic children who have embraced the DAN protocol for treating their autistic children. The article provides testimonials from parents who endorse the DAN treatment protocol and quotes and references from authorities which describe the DAN protocol as "voo doo" science. The article is a balanced presentation of a controversial autism subject and is accompanied by a companion article reporting on the 1 in 150 prevalence figure and the mainstream recommendations for ABA treatment with judicious use of pharmaceutical applications.

Maine parents embrace controversial treatment model for autistic children

By Meg Haskell

Saturday, March 24, 2007 - Bangor Daily News

Their DAN! protocols are based on the premise that autism develops in individuals with a genetically heightened intolerance of certain foods and common environmental toxins.

In these individuals, the theory suggests, prenatal exposure through the mother’s diet, medications, dental fillings and other sources, combined with the onslaught of vaccines, antibiotics and other substances commonly experienced by babies and young children, set off a self-perpetuating metabolic storm. The result is the range of neurological symptoms and behavior associated with autism-related disorders.

DAN! practitioners believe that by interrupting this storm and eliminating the substances that triggered it, individuals can regain their neurological health. The special diets, supplements and other remedies DAN! practitioners prescribe are designed to accomplish this.


Among conventional medical practitioners and others in the field, the DAN! approach is at least controversial and often divisive.

"Anyone who’s talking ‘cure’ is talking fraud," said Vincent Strully, founder and executive director of the New England Center for Children in Southborough, Mass.

In a recent telephone interview, Strully said parents who elect to follow the DAN! protocols are gambling with their children’s future by investing time, energy and money in an unproven treatment that builds false hope and is based on "voodoo science."

Despite its endorsement by some well-intentioned medical professionals, Strully said, DAN! is just one of a number of short-lived pseudoscientific fads developed in recent years to capitalize on parents’ desperation.

Parents who wish to enroll their autistic children in his ABA-based education and research program must specifically agree not to dabble in such treatments.

Dr. Don Burgess, president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is more conciliatory. Burgess, who practices in Kennebunk, emphasized that a link between autism and vaccines has never been proven, and that even though most vaccines no longer contain mercury, rates of autism continue to climb.

The lack of well-designed research studies on the safety and effectiveness of DAN! and similar approaches is disturbing, Burgess said, but he understands parents’ need to explore alternatives for their autistic children.

Dietary changes overseen by a physician or nutritionist are unlikely to hurt children and may even prove helpful, Burgess allowed.

But chelation is potentially dangerous and should be avoided except in cases where a child’s blood level of mercury or lead is extremely high, he said.

From up in Aroostook County, Deb Lipsky says DAN! is "a bunch of bunk." Diagnosed with high-functioning autism just 1½ years ago, Lipsky, 45, has emerged as a popular national speaker and first-hand expert on living with autism. She also facilitates a Bangor support group for parents and others affected by the disorder.

Lipsky, who lives in Linneus, said ABA and other behavioral models "work beautifully" for many children and adults with autism. The group she runs is accepting and supportive of whichever treatments parents explore, she said, but will not tolerate fanaticism.

True believers

Parents who embrace DAN! don’t see themselves as fanatics — just truth-tellers.

"We need to get the message out that autism is a treatable illness," declared Belfast resident and DAN! mother Tina Frank.

Frank leads a local support group for mothers who, like her, follow the DAN! protocols. The group is called MIMRAC — Moms in Maine Recovering Autistic Children. Laura Plourde, who now works for Fredric Shotz in Portland, is a regular visitor to the Belfast meeting and also runs a similar group in Portland.

Frank’s 5-year-old son, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 but is now "nearly cured," she said, thanks to the intensive interventions prescribed and monitored by Shotz.

She and the other mothers in the Belfast group are undaunted by the lack of double-blind studies or peer-reviewed articles about DAN! in mainstream medical journals.

Layton, Stoffer Slam Zero Conservative Support for Autism

NDP leader Jack Layton and NDP MP Peter Stoffer have slammed the Harper Conservatives for failing to provide any funding whatsosever for autism in its recent federal budget. The Conservatives did not ante up a single penny for autism.

Meanwhile Mike Lake, the Conservative MP and father of an autistic child, who opposed the Shawn Murphy attempt to ensure autism coverage in the Canada Health Act, has not offered any public comment on the failure to provide a single penny for autism in his party's budget. Emails sent to his office are responded to by a staffer who informs that Mr. Lake has received too many emails on the subject of autism to respond personally.

Stoffer slams federal government for not providing autism funding in budget

Fri 23 Mar 2007

OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jack Layton and Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore) slammed the federal government today for not providing funding in the federal budget to help families with autistic children.

“Families with autistic children are in crying need of support,” said Layton. “They are very disappointed that the Conservative government has ignored their needs in the budget. Providing support for these families should be a bigger priority for the federal government than corporate tax cuts.”

“It is also hypocritical that the Harper government is ignoring the autism motion M-172 passed by the House of Commons last December,” said Stoffer. “When Harper was in Opposition, he constantly criticized the Liberal government because it did not respect the votes of the House of Commons. It is surprising how quickly the Conservatives have become just like the Liberals.”

M-172 requires the federal government to work in cooperation with the provinces and territories to establish national standards for treatment and delivery of services, study funding arrangements, create a national surveillance program, and provide more funding for health research on autism.

“The federal government must work with the provinces and territories to find a way to include autism therapy in the health care insurance plan of every region across this country,” said Stoffer. Stoffer introduced a private members bill (C-211) to this effect last fall.

Stoffer also expressed his profound disappointment with the federal government in failing to recognize the Veterans First Motion and ignoring the issue of Agent Orange and Agent Purple in the budget. The Veterans First motion was passed in November 2006 and suggested five key reforms that would deliver long overdue fairness and security for Canadian Forces veterans and their families.

“With a $14.2 billion dollar surplus, how can the federal government not provide more funding and services for families with autistic children and for veterans and their families? It is absolutely shameful. It is time for the federal government to be proactive in the lives of Canadian families living with autism.”