THE Public Health Agency of Canada has recently released its findings that 1 in 66 Canadian children and youth ages five to 17 are on the autism spectrum. The finding is based on analysis of 2015 data supplied by six provinces and one territory.
If you say it quickly it doesn’t really sink in but when you factor in the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles affected by just one child on the autism spectrum the results are staggering.
Even though it has been more than 17 years that my son was diagnosed with autism I can remember it as though it was just yesterday. When the doctors said my son had autism my first thought was, “I better have a huge trust fund because who’s going to take care of him if something happens to me?” All my hopes and dreams for my firstborn child were shattered in that diagnosis. I felt sorry for myself at first but then after being asked by a very wise friend of mine, “would you trade him?” began to move forward with the thought, “what am I going to do about it now?”
Fast-forward 17 years, my son is now at University pursuing his degree in Mecchatronics Systems Engineering, drives his own car paid for with his own money from his own job, hopes to be married and have a family one day and become a taxpayer!
How did we get here? Well, I found out that autism was treatable. As a matter of fact studies conducted at UCLA in the 1980s by Dr. Ivar Lovaas showed 48% of children in the experimental group achieved best outcome or were “indistinguishable from their peers”. I hired consultants from the Wisconsin Early Autism Project [a replication site for the studies done at UCLA], shared the cost with a few other families who had children on the autism spectrum and did everything and anything I could to provide that treatment for my son.
A few years ago, I was a candidate in the Surrey Municipal Election and while on the campaign trail was introduced to many in the South Asian community. We spoke at local businesses, community events, fundraisers, personal homes and banquet halls and even visited a number of the gurdwaras. Everywhere we went the entire campaign team introduced themselves one at a time telling our audiences a bit about ourselves and what led us to run for city Council. At each location I was amazed at the number of people wanting to talk to me, not about politics but rather about autism. I met many fathers and grandfathers of children who had been diagnosed with autism and they were very receptive to my story about my son. After listening to their stories and seeing their tears they wanted to know if I could help them and how they could get access to treatment. Many had never heard that autism was treatable and like me, they too now had some glimmer of hope that was so desperately lost with the diagnosis.
Some of those children have been helped through myself and Autism BC, and others I’m not certain of because we never connected any further. One of the things I found most troubling was the stigma that an autism diagnosis brought to a South Asian family. Don’t get me wrong, autism brings a stigma to every family but it seems much more pronounced in the Asian and particularly the South Asian communities and sadly, without a diagnosis, the child can’t get the help and supports he or she needs to reach his or her full potential.
Since 2014 it has weighed heavily on my heart and I’ve wanted to reach out to the Surrey South Asian community to let them know autism has no socioeconomic boundaries. It affects all cultures and communities equally and with early diagnosis and intervention children can reach their full potential.
Don’t wait to get your child or grandchild assessed if you suspect he or she might be on the autism spectrum. You have nothing to lose. If the child doesn’t get diagnosed with autism, great! If the child does, at the very least you will know what you’re dealing with and can intervene.
With treatment there is hope!
For more information about autism throughout the lifespan please contact www.AutismBC.ca. We are here to help.