A Saskatchewan autism advocacy group is disappointed with the low number of federal candidate responses to its questionnaire as it attempts to turn autism into an election issue.
In September, Parent Advocates for Autism Treatment Saskatchewan (PAATS) sent a questionnaire to all 28 Saskatchewan federal election candidates asking them whether they supported and would continue to work towards a national autism strategy and what their party would do to increase funding for individuals with autism.
“I was expecting to get a lot more responses and just see what everyone’s position was on it so that when folks are going to the polls, they have an idea of where their candidates stand,” PAATS president Shannon Hill said.
An 2010 American survey estimated one in 68 eight year old children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Public Health Agency of Canada is working to develop a Canadian surveillance system.
The federal election also coincidentally lands in the middle of autism awareness month.
“Perhaps (candidates) think it’s a non-issue, but with one in 68 being the prevalence rate in autism, I think it’s time that politicians start paying attention to what’s going on,” Hill said.
Children under the age of five need 20 to 40 hours of Applied Behaviour Analysis treatment per week, Hill said. Saskatchewan spends about $7.5 million annually on autism treatment and services. Saskatchewan’s Lil Tots program provides limited spaces for children with autism but many parents end up paying out of pocket.
Hill, whose son has autism, said their family spends between $15,000 and $20,000 a year on therapy and special programs. Frustrated with a lack of services, she trained to become a behavioural analyst and fill a gap herself.
In the past federal budget, the Conservative Party committed $2 million to create an ASD working group to develop a Canadian Autism Partnership.
Hill said PAATS wants whichever party is elected to maintain development of a national autism plan. She said services are spotty across the country and they want a national standard for diagnosis and supports, which may be difficult when health care is regulated by the provinces.
“If we don’t treat these folks when they’re small, there’s going to be a huge burden to the tax payer at the end of this all,” Hill said. “Talk is cheap if it’s not affecting you, but I think it’s getting to the point where more and more people are just knowing this is a big issue.”
Of the responses to the PAATS questionnaire, three were from Green Party candidates Elaine Hughes, Lynn Oliphant and Mark Bigland-Pritchard and one each from Conservative Brad Trost and NDP Trevor Peterson. No liberal candidates responded.