By Dr. Stephen Gentles and Dr. Vivian Lee
It was fitting that the 2018 Canadian Autism Leadership Summit, hosted by the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA), happened in Ottawa, Canada – the epicenter of political action and the host site of national strategies and social change. The meeting was an intense but incredibly rewarding two days of learning, networking, and action. Representatives from the federal (Senators and MPs) and provincial governments (ministry representatives) were present as well as researchers, clinicians, autistic advocates, family members, frontline workers from across Canada – a passionate group of individuals advocating for a national strategy in autism care.
Through the well-curated panels, we learned about exciting national collaborations and projects, as well as the most acute needs in autism. Presenters painted pictures of how ambitious collaborations were implemented in their jurisdictions to achieve complex restructuring of systems to improve care. We heard from clinicians, researchers, and self-advocates about the dire lack of mental health support for those with ASD and the near absence of assistance for families in Canada’s rural and remote indigenous communities. A session on accessibility legislation helped us understand how the simple concept of inclusion is so important to solving the problems that were so emotionally brought to life by the self-advocate panel later in the summit. We listened intensely to the lived-experience of #acutallyautistic individuals whose voices we all need to hear, recognize and respect as we move forward in our individual endeavors.
Importantly, beyond learning and listening, we also discussed solutions and paths of action. Near the end of the summit we faced crucial questions in a peer-to-peer session about the future of a National Autism Strategy, which seems to be at a pivotal crossroads. The Summit made clear how such a strategy is poised to make profound differences in the lives of Canadians affected by ASD. These are exciting times in autism policy, where, in the opening words of Senator Jim Munson, “We have work to do.”