As autism month in Canada begins, a national advocacy group has released a blueprint for a co-ordinated strategy to support individuals and families living with the disorder.

During a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA) announced the release of their blueprint for a national autism spectrum disorder strategy and called on the federal government to take leadership in the plan.

Cynthia Carroll, the chair of CASDA, said there are three main components of their plan. The strategy calls for:

  • Federal leadership to facilitate coordination and cooperation across the county;
  • Immediate federal action on affordability and access to support programs, information, employment, housing, and research;
  • A cross-government approach to ASD, which includes different federal departments.

The group is also asking for reforms to the Disability Tax Credit to provide more benefits to Canadians with ASD, as well as a refundable tax credit to help those with low incomes.

Additionally, CASDA is proposing a distinct Indigenous ASD strategy in partnership with Indigenous communities. This plan would respect “government-to-government relationships, the need for culturally appropriate services, and [be] responsive to the distinctive needs of Indigenous communities.”

Carroll said the experience of Canadians living with the effects of autism varies widely from province to province.

“What we’re seeing across the country are inconsistencies in how program and services are delivered,” she told CTV’s Your Morning from Halifax on Tuesday. “We really need a national approach to support provinces and territories, but most importantly to support individuals and families living on the autism spectrum.”

According to the group, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the most common and fastest-growing neurodevelopment disorder in Canada. It affects one in 66 Canadians between the ages of five and 17 and an estimated 500,000 people nationwide.

The cost of autism care in Ontario has made headlines in recent weeks after the provincial government announced new changes to how much money families with children with autism would receive for each child and for how long.

Carroll said the firestorm of debate in Ontario – which has resulted in nearly two months of protests – is not a unique event.

“We know that individuals and families across the country are struggling,” she said.

The CASDA chair said individuals and families living with autism need more support in portfolios such as education, access to employment opportunities, independent living, and housing.

“These are key areas for quality of life and we really need the federal government to step up and take leadership in this area,” Carroll explained.

Allison Garber, a mother of a child with autism and a member of Autism Nova Scotia, attended CASDA’s press conference on Monday and supports the group’s blueprint. She said she’s seen families move from one province to another in order to access care for their children with autism.

“If we have federal oversight, if we have federal guidelines that provide best practices, evidence-based programs and resources, it will give families a sense of calm,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “You know, what’s being delivered in one province is going to be equally provided in another.”

In the lead up to the federal election in October, CASDA said it will be advocating for its national ASD strategy in consultation with provincial and territorial governments and individuals and families with the disorder.