May 21st was a memorable day for the McMaster Autism Research Team (MacART) and for McMaster University. We were honoured to co-host a visit from Senator Jim Munson, and his wife Ginette, to McMaster in partnership with the Socrates Project. Their visit began with presentations by members of MacART to inform the Senator and his wife about some of the ground-breaking and collaborative autism-related research happening at McMaster.
In the afternoon, various leaders, stakeholders, family members and self-advocates – numbering over 120 – from the autism community across southern Ontario gathered in the Great Hall of the McMaster University Faculty Club for a Socrates Project event with Senator Munson. MacART trainees Dr. Vivian Lee, Dr. Mackenzie Salt, and Dr. Stephen Gentles participated in a conversation with the Senator around why Canada needs a national autism strategy, what a strategy might include, and the feasibility of such a plan. This was followed by questions from the highly engaged audience.
Senator Munson is notable for his advocacy for autism and developmental disabilities. It was his leadership in Parliament that led to the adoption of An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day and, later, the 2007 Senate Report, Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis. Soon after, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA) was formed, which has worked to advance the idea and outlines for a National Autism Strategy, the topic for the afternoon’s conversation. This past spring CASDA released its Blueprint for a National ASD Strategy, which provides a path for concrete federal action—relevant for all political parties given the federal election this fall. As the Senator said, “Autism is not just a provincial responsibility or a federal responsibility. It is a Canadian responsibility. We have to give hope to everybody. We have to give a place for everybody to participate.”