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Surrey mom says Liberal budget falls short in helping people with autism

Louise Witt, whose son has autism, says budget provisions like ‘putting a Band-Aid on a cancer’
Surrey resident Louise Witt. (Submitted photo)

The Trudeau government is taking it on the chin from a Surrey mother of an autistic boy for not doing enough to help people afflicted with the “most pervasive developmental disorder for children” in this country.

Louise Witt, a social worker whose 15-year-old son was diagnosed with autism in 2005, likened the Liberals’ approach to autism in Budget 2019, delivered on Tuesday, to “putting a Band-Aid on a cancer.”

This final budget before the Oct. 21 federal election earmarks $12 million over three years to the Canadian Association for Community Living, in partnership with the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance for the Ready, Willing and Able Program.

The budget document notes that people with intellectual disabilities, and Austism Spectrum Disorders, encounter unique barrier in securing employment and funding to help overcome these barriers will be provided through the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities.

Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells told the Now-Leader he’s “pleased to see some action taken on autism, which is a big thing in our riding. We’re into a lot of discussions about more support for autism, so there’s a Ready, Willing and Able provision in there that’ll be intended on helping autistic people find work. If they’re capable of doing some work, we’re going to help them find it.”

Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells. (File photo)

Witt is one of many parents across Canada who have been lobbying various levels of government for “science-based” autism treatment and services.

“This is a neurological condition, a health condition that has been thrown into the realm of social services,” Witt said. “We’ve put a medical condition in the realm of social services and are not willing to accept the fact there is science-based treatment that’s well known, that’s demonstrated.”

The Liberal Party of Canada, she noted, had given “overwhelming support” at its biennial convention in Winnipeg in May 2016 to a non-binding health policy resolution that called for autism treatment – applied behaviour analysis – to be covered under Medicare.

The resolution called for the Canada Health Act “be amended to include Medicare coverage for Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or, alternatively, the Government of Canada work with all provincial and territorial governments to ensure inclusion of ABA for ASD within their respective Medical Services Plans.

But she, and many other Canadian parents, are still waiting for the Liberals to make good on that.

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“It is just a drop in the ocean, really,” Witt said of the budget provisions. “I mean, what the resolution talks about is providing actual treatment right after a diagnosis. For higher-functioning individuals, they may have the hope for employment, steady employment, they’ve very under-employed and unemployed at huge rates, so Ready, Willing and Able is certainly a good idea, but that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer, really. This is a much greater issue – this is the most pervasive developmental disorder for children across the country, one in 66.

In 2007 a Senate report entitled Pay now or pay later called for a national autism strategy.

“That was ignored,” Witt said. “The Liberals when they were in opposition with the Harper government, one of their MPs presented a private member’s bill calling exactly for Medicare covering autism treatment. So in opposition they’re prepared to do one thing, and in government a different one.”

She said she “absolutely” gives the Liberal budget a failing grade on autism because it leaves so much out.

“Maybe a year or two ago they gave $20 million for a website. While a website is not treatment, and the website doesn’t even exist yet – I believe it’s supposed to be sort of this one place you can go to get all this quality research on the condition, and how to treat it, well that’s great – it doesn’t actually mean treatment for an individual with a diagnosis.”

Witt recalled that Hardie staged a townhall meeting in October 2017 that was attended by “desperate and tearful” families.

“I mean, it was packed, people came out of the woodwork and people with autism, their families, people were in tears, they had to cut off the lineup of people at the microphone wanting to talk. It dangled a little bit of hope out there, and we’ve been through this over and over and over, for years and years and years and years, and we’ve got a massive crisis going on.”

“It’s clearly not politically expedient for them to pay attention,” she said. “I must ask, is the Trudeau government about to write off yet another generation of children with autism, just as the previous Harper government did?”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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