By Mary McNeil

Minister of Children and Family Development

VICTORIA – Every year, British Columbians commemorate Autism Awareness Month as a way to recognize and honour children, youth and adults dealing with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Now, as we approach the end of the month, it is a good time to reflect on the outpouring of support we have seen this year to find better ways to help those with ASD.

On April 1, the Canucks Autism Network hosted the annual Autism Awareness Walk in Vancouver. I was heartened to join individuals, families and community members on the walk, to read the proclamation and to participate in a special lighting of the Olympic cauldron – all to help raise awareness of ASD.

Then on April 2, B.C. celebrated World Autism Awareness Day by participating in the unique global movement, Light It Up Blue, where iconic landmarks around the world are bathed in blue light to show each community’s support and solidarity on this issue. This year, BC Place, the YVR Tower and Rogers Arena were all glowing blue to demonstrate B.C.’s support of individuals and families around the world living with autism – a wonderful show of community support!

Community events and workshops were held throughout the month of April. These included the ACT-Autism Community Training’s 8th Annual Focus on Research Event, as well as innovative workshops for families which provided a lesson on apps for the iPad and other software applications that help children with ASD.

ASD is a complex condition that impacts normal brain development and affects a person’s social relationships, communication, interests and behaviour. ASD occurs in all ethnic and social groups. ASD is four times more likely to affect boys than girls.

You may have a family member, friend or neighbour who is living with ASD. If so, you have seen the difficulties these families face. If you are a parent with a child or youth with ASD, you are dealing with these challenges first-hand.

Because ASD challenges can be even greater for families living far from large cities, the Province launched the Autism Outreach Program to offer training and resources to behaviour interventionists and families in rural and remote communities. The second phase of the program was launched earlier this month and offers more e-training for behaviour interventionists through Douglas College and two-day workshops for parents and caregivers to learn best practices and work intervention methods into their daily routines.

There is no cure for ASD and no “one size fits all” intervention.
However, there are highly effective treatment methods available that can help people address the specific symptoms and characteristics of this disorder.

Early comprehensive interventions for children with ASD can result in dramatic improvements in language, communication and cognitive abilities to help them achieve more meaningful communication with family and friends.

That’s why the B.C. government invests in an integrated, co-ordinated range of services and supports. We are the only province in Canada that has a no-waitlist policy for families to access autism funding once their child or youth has received a confirmed diagnosis of ASD, allowing them to choose the intervention that best meets the needs of their child.

The government provides more than $165 million annually for programs and services that support approximately 7,500 children and youth with ASD and their families – including assessments, funding for early intervention and education funding for students.

For children under age six, families receive access to funding of up to $22,000 per year to help with the cost of autism intervention services. For children and youth aged six to 18, families receive access to funding of up to $6,000 per year to help with the cost of out-of-school intervention services. This is in addition to the $18,300 in per-pupil funding for educational program and special education services provided through school boards.

Together – as parents, families, professionals, researchers, community organizations, and across the government – we all have a shared goal of enhancing outcomes for children with ASD and helping them live enriched lives.

Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect