Canada is one place that takes the Global Goals seriously. 

The goals are a framework set up by the United Nations to target extreme poverty, inequality and climate change all around the world, and Global Citizen Canada has been working hard on Global Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being, particularly in the quest to eradicate polio in the places where it still endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

But now, alongside the fight against polio, GC Canada is taking on another health challenge, launching a domestic action to address autism, which affects an estimated 50,000 children and 150,000 adults in Canada.

The Global Citizen action asks for tweets to the Canadian Minister for Health, Jane Philpott, asking her to pledge $19 million towards the Canadian Autism Partnership. So far, it has earned over 2,000 tweets, showing a broad base of support for Canadians living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Here’s a Q&A with Executive Director, Geetha Moorthy, of the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre to explore the campaign, and why the support of Canadians and Global Citizens counts:

1) The Global Citizen Action to "Tweet your support for Canadians living with autism and tell the Minister for Health that you support the creation of the Canadian Autism Partnership" received over 2,000 actions! How significant is this for your group? Whats does this mean to you?

This is significant for SAAAC and other autism agencies. It is a much needed show of support for a national initiative that will better serve individuals and families living with autism. Organizations like SAAAC are on the front lines, serving an immediate need in our communities. The Canadian Autism Partnership would be a significant source of support for organizations like ours to communicate, coordinate, and work collectively with other agencies to provide the best care possible to families living with autism. This great show of support through Twitter echoes what many Canadians want, which is coordinated leadership and collaborative partnerships that can reduce the frustration and isolation that can accompany a family’s search for appropriate and effective intervention and care.

2) Tell us about the work that you do, and why you need the support of the Canadian government.

As Toronto becomes increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, autism support systems and providers need to respond to patients’ varied perspectives, values, and behaviors. This is the need the SAAAC Autism Centre fills. 

SAAAC is a registered charity that supports newcomer and low-income families living with autism. SAAAC began in 2008 as a response to the culture of shame, stigma and silence associated with autism in the South Asian community in Toronto. In subsequent years, SAAAC expanded its scope and services to support all communities that experienced challenges accessing autism services and information due to language barriers, low incomes, cultural stigmas, and lack of support networks. The centre currently serves 250 families and has an active volunteer base of 150 volunteers. We offer a variety of free and subsidized services including Speech-Language Therapy, ABA therapy, recreational programs (sports, fitness, dance), visual arts, March break and summer camps, family support programming, adult day programming, and employment skills training.

We need support from the Canadian Government because we are a grassroots organization that looks to streamline the process from autism diagnosis support to treatment in a culturally responsive manner. This is a highly resource heavy endeavor and cannot be sustained strictly through private donations and fundraising. We need our government to understand we work in low resource communities with vulnerable populations. If these communities have a difficult time accessing services, we see poorer health outcomes and quality of life in children and overwhelming parental stress resulting in isolation, depression and an overall sense of powerlessness.

3) What should Global Citizen's know about autism? 

Though autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder, it isn’t a death sentence. Individuals with autism have the capacity to learn, grow and lead meaningful lives, given they are provided with appropriate and timely support. 

Supporting individuals with autism must also include reshaping our environment and communities to be more inclusive of individuals of varying abilities. When more people know more about autism and how to better support individuals with the disorder, we will see increases in opportunities for individuals with autism to succeed and fulfill their potential. 

4) What would a Canadian Autism Partnership look like, and if established what are the goals and desired outcomes?

The Canadian Autism Partnership is a solution to the challenge of fragmented and limited services across Canada. Currently, every provincial and territorial jurisdiction has been struggling to keep up with supporting individuals with autism and their families. The result is varying levels of support and inconsistent responses across the country. 

A Canadian Autism Partnership will provide a national platform for multi-sectoral collaboration and innovation to drive systemic change. It will also be an authoritative access point for reliable data to inform policy development, funding decisions and service delivery. An initiative likes this can lead to effective partnerships that can enable pooling of resources across multiple sectors and all levels of government, and will provide greater equity across all provinces and territories to share resources and adapt models of service. 

5) Is there anything else you would like to share, or that the public should be aware of? 

Current research indicates that young minority children are at increased risk for delayed diagnosis and later enrollment into early intervention services than are children from higher socioeconomic classes. In addition, poverty rates, which are usually higher among minorities (The hidden epidemic: A Report on Child and Family poverty in Toronto, 2014), can limit a family’s access to information, education, and quality health care. These families are often unaware of the complex web and processes involved in attending an autism diagnosis and the importance of early intervention. 

An autism diagnosis in Ontario will result in access to a range of resources from educational to financial (Russell and Norwich, 2012). These resources are not appropriately utilized by minority families of low socioeconomic status because they are more likely to receive a delayed diagnosis due to several reasons including language barriers, cultural stigma, lack of networks, and unfamiliarity with navigating the developmental health system. 

In response, autism policies should increase safeguards to support New Canadian and low-income families in accessing developmental health care.


Defeat Poverty

Global Citizens Show Support for Canadian Autism Partnership

By Chelsey Smith