OTTAWA — The federal health minister will be required to develop a framework on autism spectrum disorder, including identifying ways to give financial support to autistic people, within the next 18 months.
A Senate public bill calling for such a framework received royal assent on Thursday after clearing the House of Commons with unanimous support this week.
Conservative member of Parliament Mike Lake, a longtime advocate for such a framework, delivered a speech on Wednesday to mark the moment.
Lake spoke about the triumphs and struggles of his child, Jaden, who looked on from the gallery, and discussed the importance of embracing people who have autism.
"His differences are healthier than our societal normal," said Lake. "He's obsessed with pictures, not because of how many likes they get on Instagram, but because of how much he loves the people, pets and places in them."
"He's honest with his expressions, giggling, yawning, crying or tongue-out intense, rarely feeling pressure to be something he isn't."
Alina Cameron, the president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, says she is excited for the new law and how it will better provincial programs to help those with autism.
As parent to a child with autism, Cameron was pleased to see the framework would aim to expand the scope of support to include long-term solutions for people over the age of 18 years old who often age out of provincial programs.
"It's very ambitious," said Cameron. "There's a long way to go between this bill and those things panning out across Canada. But it's nice to see that the government is actually taking this seriously and they've laid the framework out and the work can begin."
Tory Sen. Leo Housakos introduced the legislation, known as Bill S-203, in the Senate in November 2021. Lake sponsored it in the House with the support of Liberal MP Michael Coteau.
The bill requires the federal health minister to table a framework within 18 months that finds ways to improve access to screening, diagnosis and financial support, establish a national research network and fund cross-country awareness campaigns.
It also requires the federal minister to consult with fellow cabinet ministers, including the finance minister, provincial governments and others with a stake in the outcome, including self-advocates and others with lived experience.
At the end of Lake's speech, Conservative MPs gave him a standing ovation as he turned to blow a kiss to his son.
"Yes, Jaden needs help but for those who give him that help, invariably they receive much, much more in return," said Lake.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press