J & J’s Gibberish: Time for Action on Autism

Feature photo: Jaden and Mike Lake

A wonderful thing happened last week. At a town hall meeting Prime Minister Trudeau hosted in Nova Scotia, a mother stood up and shared her struggles of trying to raise an autistic child. While it was immensely sad to hear how she had to give up her job to care for her child, she raised important issues that must be addressed.  Just like mental health, the more we talk about what families face, the more will be done. Of course, it is always helpful to have advocates to assist with this endeavor and two relentless and dedicated voices to the issue in Canada belong to Mike Lake, MP for Edmonton-Wetaskiwin, and Senator Jim Munson.

Senator Jim Munson
Senator Jim Munson

To say that Lake and his 22-year-old son Jaden are incredible is an understatement. The two of them travel across Canada and the US raising awareness of autism. They have done Ted Talks, given countless interviews to educate anyone who will listen on all the unique ways that living with autism changes your perspective on the world and life. Jaden is a non-verbal but communicative and warmly affectionate young man who lights up a room. He has greatly contributed to the autism discourse along with his dad who has used his role as an MP as a platform to get autism on the federal agenda. There is so much to be done to help these kids, especially as the numbers increase. In 2002, 1 in 150 were diagnosed.  By 2016 the numbers had jumped to 1 in 68 children.  In March new statistics are coming out that will underline the importance and urgency to do more.

Senator Jim Munson has been calling for a national autism strategy and funding for autism for over ten years.  “There is definitely a need for the federal voice at the table,” he has said.

This past October was the tenth anniversary of the release of a report by The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, Pay Now Pay Later:  Autism Families in Crisis. The Committee studied the issue thanks to Senator Munson. It was the first time autism was brought to the political front burner.  Here is the link to the report.

Munson’s interest in autism began through a chance encounter on the Hill.  He was on his way to work when he met a father and his autistic son who were seeking help.  Munson stopped and spoke with them and it ignited him.  His dedication to the file has been unwavering and he was instrumental in establishing World Autism Awareness Day in Canada with his motion in Parliament. Over the years, he and his colleagues in the Senate have joined together with Lake to advocate. To mark the 10th anniversary of the report, the senators held a Facebook live roundtable with experts and awareness events on the Hill.

It is rare that politicians of different stripes come together.  However, on this issue they have in the Senate and it is inspirational and moving to see this development. There is no doubt that they are having an impact.  Senator Munson met with the Minister of Health and then a group of senators of all political persuasions met with her as well.  With Lake in the House of Commons and the senators working hard, there is reason to hope that action will be taken for families.