Toronto Star: Families deserve help

Nov. 24, 2004. 01:00 AM
Toronto Star
Families of autistic kids deserve helpCanada’s provincial governments are celebrating the news that they cannot and will not be forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars a year to treat autistic children.

But while the provinces’ relief is understandable, they have not been absolved of a serious social responsibility – not one bit. The Supreme Court of Canada merely told them what their legal obligations are, what the letter of the law says must happen.

The judges did not spell out the moral imperative confronting the provinces. And when it comes down to morality, it is difficult not to conclude that more should be done to serve the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in Canada.

Autism is a rare but debilitating mental condition that usually strikes in early childhood. While autistic children bring joy to their families, they also bring heartache, demanding an overwhelming commitment of time, energy and money. This burden is felt by the general public also. It has been estimated that 90 per cent of autistic children are eventually institutionalized at great expense to the state. The parents of autistic children do not expect pity. They do, however, expect help.

The therapy pioneered by Texas researcher Ivar Lovaas has produced life-altering results for many autistic children. The therapy’s price tag is, unfortunately, exorbitant. It can cost up to $60,000 a year because it provides autistic children with one-on-one treatment for 20 to 40 hours a week.

In essence, the court said that no law requires the provision of medically necessary services. So, autistic children are not being treated unfairly under the law. It is hard to disagree with the logic of this court decision or with the vision of governance it reflects.

Yet it would be a grotesque distortion of this ruling to conclude that governments need only do what courts compel them to do. True, the expense for the therapy in question is daunting. But surely the needs of autistic children and their families deserve a place at the top of any priority list for any government.

Think of the government waste and bungling recited annually in auditor general reports. Think of the $101 million for two corporate jets for the federal government or the $100 million lost in the sponsorship scandal. Think of the $8.9 billion surplus the federal government will be holding in its fist at the end of this fiscal year.

And then forget the wrangling over federal versus provincial responsibilities. Just think of the autistic children and their families and you will likely agree that there is money in the provincial and the federal treasuries to help. It only requires a will.

This is an edited excerpt of an editorial from The Record, Waterloo Region.

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