Thursday, March 29, 2007

Canadian Parliament Panel Urges New National Policy

A committee in Canada's Parliament has called on the central government to play a leadership role in developing a new national strategy to improve the lives of autistic people and their families.

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on March 29 issued a report entitled "Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis," which calls on "the federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, establish a comprehensive National ASD Strategy." You can read a press release from the committee here, and see a copy of the 36-page report (PDF file) here.

The panel says that national strategy should cover lifelong services and supports for people with autism. Its list of recommendations (see here) is heavy on information-gathering, increasing public awareness about autism spectrum disorders, and including citizens who have autism diagnoses in future policy-making deliberations. It also calls for more research into best practices for delivering autism-related services and disseminating those best practices around the country. And it calls for tax policies that could help families deal with autism-related expenses.

These are good ideas, to be sure, and the Senate panel is clearly sticking a stake in the ground in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa to put autism on the national agenda. However, as the listing of ideas above describes, the Canadian panel's recommendations appear to be light on concrete actions or specific proposals that provide direct services to people with autism and their families anytime soon. Contrast these recommendations with those contained in recent state autism task force reports in the United States, such as Washington here and Kentucky here.

On the other hand, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs does endorse a proposal now in Parliament to have Canada's national health plan cover the costs of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services (also called Intensive Behavioral Intervention, or IBI, in Canada). That's not something anyone in the U.S. could discuss without Washington enacting a health care overhaul or federal budget offensive.

Lastly, the Senate committee's report gives an important clue as to why it didn't come out more forcefully with a set of specific recommendations for national action on autism policies. The reason: Canada lacks a critical-mass consensus on what to do about autism spectrum disorders. Take this early passage from the report:


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.

Like the U.S., autism services -- the rising need for them and the challenge to pay for them -- is a hot-button issue at the provincial level. Also see:

No comments: