A Path Forward on a National Autism Strategy

Election season is finally over, and the Liberals have been downgraded from a Majority to a Minority Government.

This means that action in government will require cooperation between parties to get anything passed in the House.

UBC Economics Professor Kevin Milligan shared this useful chart from the G&M on how that might work in voting scenarios:

The number of seats held by the Liberal Party clearly allows them an easier time than the other parties to get things done, but they’ll always require help. Adding the 24 seats from the NDP is the easiest way to cross the threshold.

On the flip side, the only way to win a vote without LPC support would involve the CPC/NDP/BQ all working together. That’s much less likely.

Green support is not required in any scenario, as their 3 votes would never be the deciding factor.

So where do the parties stand on a National Autism Strategy (NAS)?

CASDA shared this updated summary chart a few days before the election:

Each of the 4 main parties have agreed, in principle, to work towards a NAS.

I went more in detail on this in a previous piece:

The CPC and NDP both committed formally to a NAS in their platforms, and included it in their budget. The LPC commitment was a little more vague, but many of their MPs have been resolute in their support.

When I asked LPC MP Judy Sgro post-election on Twitter if she was still going to continue to push for a NAS, she replied:

Now if either the NDP or CPC tried to lead a charge on a NAS, LPC support will still be needed.

What should a National Autism Strategy look like?

This is a tougher question to answer, as everyone may have a slightly different opinion on what should or shouldn’t be included.

I defer to the work done by CASDA on creating their blueprint for a NAS, released in April of this year, as it represents a great deal of legwork already done.

Full details of what CASDA put together can be found here, but see below for a more summarized look at their suggested pillars of immediate federal action:

Each of these areas are quite reasonable, and there is room to build from there as well.

The FAQ document from CASDA is a great resource to check out, as it further explains the rationale of what’s been included so far, and what they feel still needs to be done.

Taken from the FAQ:

They acknowledge that consultation is still needed, and reaffirm the importance of including the ASD community in the design. Autistic adults absolutely need to be involved, as well as families and professionals.

Therapy for children with ASD is a key feature that many feel is missing from the blueprint. Currently, those costs are solely a provincial matter. Each province runs their own version of an autism program, devoid of federal leadership. This means quality of care, and the wait to access therapy, varies province-to-province. A set of standards must be created, and best practices shared. All autistic children across Canada deserve access to a great program, regardless of where in the country they live.

Previously I wrote a piece about the problems associated with trying to get therapy covered by Medicare.

To summarize the piece: Amending the Canada Health Act is probably not going to happen, but by negotiating a bilateral agreement between the provinces and the federal government, it’s possible to make federal funds available for autism services that are provided at the provincial level. This wouldn’t happen overnight, but is absolutely something to works towards.

I also think that a NAS should put a focus on early intervention, and make immediate plans to build capacity for programs geared towards this kind of support.

A great example is the QuickStart program offered in Ottawa.

Our QuickStart Early Intervention program (formerly KickStart) is an intensive parent-coaching that takes place with your toddler on a weekly basis for 14 weeks. Our program teaches you how to help your child. QuickStart Early Intervention program is based on the Early Start Denver Model of therapy specific to toddlers.

This program is offered free of charge for eligible children, and is funded by donations (QuickStart is a registered charity).

Recently, a pilot program was started to bring the QuickStart model to Nova Scotia:

Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia, said of the funding announcement:

“It’s absolutely good news. The research is definitely there that the earliest we get in to support children and families, the outcomes are great.”

NS Health Minister Randy Delorey added:

“Helping children with autism spectrum disorder early, before they start school, has been proven to have significant benefits on their development.”

I feel that federal funding to help get programs like this available across the country would be immensely helpful. Early intervention can reduce needs in the future, and could save the government significant money in support costs over the lifespan of autistic individuals.

Call to Action

Liberals: As the party holding the most seats, their involvement is the most crucial. MP Judy Sgro and others have shown their interest in continuing a push for a NAS, and they need to step up in a big way. Before the election, Sgro had a letter signed by 34 LPC MPs supporting the inclusion of a NAS in the platform, based on the CASDA blueprint. 28 of those individuals are still LPC MPs now. It’s time to turn that support into action. Is Judy Sgro going to take the lead? Karen MacCrimmon? Chandra Arya? Francesco Sorbara?

CPC & NDP: Both these parties intended to create a NAS. If either group has done any preliminary work on creating a strategy, I hope they will be forthcoming with it. Do they support the CASDA blueprint? Do they have other suggestions on where to start?

For the CPC, it’s clear that MP Mike Lake will be the go-to for leadership on a NAS.

What’s not clear is who the NDP lead would be. Someone in their party needs to step up and assume a leadership role for NAS development if they’d like to a be involved.

CASDA advocates for a Cross-Government approach to ASD, but it involves a Lead Minister.

Without a majority government, a NAS will not happen with any one party on their own.

I think it’s important for each party involved in this project to choose a lead MP to be the primary point of contact on a NAS, and start talking to each other to find common ground.

Just as CASDA acknowledged that their blueprint in not a fully packaged National Autism Strategy, each party should be willing to acknowledge that they don’t have to know what a finished NAS looks like before they start the process.

Collaboration makes it happen.

It’s time to get to work.

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Patrick Monaghan

Patrick Monaghan

Dad to 2 kids on the spectrum. Autism Advocate.