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Legislature passes Opposition-sponsored bill to co-ordinate autism support in P.E.I.

PC MLA Sidney MacEwen
PC MLA Sidney MacEwen - Mitsuki Mori

Bill would designate a sitting minister as ‘autism secretariat’

A bill aimed at ensuring that a single minister take responsibility for coordinating autism programming received unanimous support on the floor of the legislature Tuesday night.

The private members bill, introduced by PC MLA Sidney MacEwen, would ensure that one minister act as an autism secretariat in government. The secretariat would be tasked with taking responsibility for coordinating government programming and research geared to individuals living with autism spectrum disorder.

"It gives the minister accountability to autism-related programs and services," MacEwen said.

MacEwen said he believed that many organizations are providing effective support for families living with autism spectrum disorder. But he said that coordination could be improved.

“This would formalize the informal process that already exists,” MacEwen said, speaking in the legislature.

Speaking to the legislature on Tuesday, MacEwen referred to a 2009 report from the P.E.I. Autism Action Group, which stated that, across departments of the province, “silos are entrenched and cannot be penetrated by the good will and intent of the AAG.”

Under the bill, a secretariat would be tasked with undertaking research and liaising with individuals living with autism spectrum disorders. The secretariat would also propose legislation and help co-ordinate the delivery of programs related to autism.

During debate of the legislation, Peter Rukavina, whose son lives with autism spectrum disorder, said the Island has a number of supportive programs for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder.

“But here’s the thing. All of this is done almost entirely without coordination or integration,” Rukavina said.

described the process of supporting a family member with autism spectrum disorder as “wrenchingly difficult and overwhelmingly wonderful”.

He said navigating the number of provincial and federal programs was difficult, and that programs were often delivered across the four departments of Health, Education and Family & Human Services and Workforce and Advanced Learning.

As an example, Rukavina said he had received school age funding for his son for several years, but had not accessed disability support, even though he was eligible for this funding, until last year.

“Why? Because we didn’t know it existed,” Rukavina said.

Several members on the government side of the legislature spoke in support of the bill.

Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy told the house that her son received a late stage diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder at age 20. She said that her department has been working to improve disability support programs but said more needs to be done.

“I do agree that we need a more formalized collaboration across these services,” Mundy said.

Education Minister Jordan Brown and Health Minister Robert Mitchell also said they supported the bill. Brown said there are currently 422 students attending Island public schools who have some level of autism spectrum disorder.

The bill unanimously passed second reading on Tuesday night and will now proceed to third reading.

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