Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tony Clement's Canada does not include autistics

This is a letter I sent to Canada's Health Minister, Tony Clement, on October 16, 2006. A previous health minister once responded to a letter of mine by sending me his pity, as well as concerns about the plight of my poor family . So my expectations are low.

Sir,

I've read your Autism Awareness Month message.

You call autism a "disease" and praise all the dedicated people involved in "the fight against autism spectrum disorder". This sends a powerful message to all Canadians, that autism is a very bad thing that ideally Canada should be free of. This message goes out to schools, communities and employers, all of whom are informed that autism is an unwanted disease to fight against. Employers, for example, would see a potential employee who is autistic as sick or diseased, rather than as having an atypical pattern of strengths and weaknesses which is remarkably and productively complementary to the typical pattern.

Canada has always had autistic people. Indeed, the figure of 200,000 autistics in Canada that you provide assumes the same consensual (in the peer-reviewed science) prevalence of 60/10,000 across all age cohorts--going back generations. Now you and your government are saying that autistic neurology is a disease to fight against, and that ideally, the contributions to Canadian society made by autistic people over the generations will stop.

Mr Clement, your Canada seems to have room for only one kind of neurology, and only one pattern of strengths and weaknesses, and only one acceptable range of traits and abilities. You've placed autistics outside of these acceptable parameters, by calling us diseased, and by praising those who fight against autistic differences in an effort to remove them from society altogether.

You have nothing good to say about those who are working to ensure that autistics receive the assistance, acceptance, and respect we need in order to succeed in society as autistic people. In short, you and your government seem to want a society where only non-autistic traits and abilities are valued and "healthy", while autistic traits and abilities are considered unwanted--something to fight against--and diseased. I would like to know why.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Michelle Dawson
Pervasive Developmental Disorders Specialized Clinic
Rivière des Prairies Hospital
University of Montréal

9 comments:

jypsy said...

My letter to the Charlottetown Guardian, sent earlier this week:

Editor,

October is Autism Awareness Month in Canada and in his Message, the Federal Health Minister, Tony Clement, said "As Minister of Health, I would like to recognize all who are involved in the fight against autism spectrum disorder. Thank you for your dedicated work."

So where does that leave Alex Bain and Islanders who supported him? Alex has spent a couple of years now "Fighting FOR Autism, not against it. Acceptance not Cure" He ran across PEI, tip to tip, in July to raise money to train PEI Law Enforcement & First Responders on recognition & response as well as parents, caregivers, educators and autistics on safety & risk management. All this was done with a very pro-autistic view. His views were further welcomed Marathon Weekend where, along with running the half marathon and volunteering most of the weekend, he was asked to speak at the Health & Wellness Expo's Speaker Series.

Autism Awareness Month does not celebrate people like Alex, rather it celebrates those who would fight & defeat them. The first cure for autism will be abortion. If I learned one thing while accompanying Alex on his province wide run it was the beauty of diversity. Alex is part of society's diversity.

My Canada includes autistics, the Minister's obviously doesn't. How sad.

Thank you PEI for celebrating & supporting my son. Your generosity shown during his tip to tip run helped us do some great work. Beyond the successful seminar presentations, we will be putting resources in the hands of autistics and their families as well as in the hands of all police & emergency first responders, in their vehicles, in their stations. Future Paramedics and Police Cadets will have this training in their curriculum. None of this would have been possible without your support.

-janet norman-bain

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi jypsy, I forgot to say that I got the line about Tony Clement's Canada not including autistics from the hand-outs you made on the occasion of Peter Stoffer's no-show at the NDP convention in PEI... This may become a recurring theme if I can maintain this blog. I hope the Guardian publishes your letter, and Minister Clement hears about it.

Camille said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Michelle! I'm really happy to see this. I struggle with writing about autism accurately and I know I can always turn to your writing for accuracy, it will be nice to be able to link people to your blog where they can read it more extensively.

I think your letter, and jypsy's are wonderful. I wish people would read them and understand them and make the changes needed to act in accordance with the spirit of autism acceptance.

Joseph said...

That was an excellent letter, and so was Jypsy's. It would be interesting to know if there are replies.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Camille, and Joseph, thanks! I struggle with writing anything at all.

There's another response to Tony Clement's letter, from a FEAT person who appears to be the prototypical Canadian "autism advocate", a veritable, uh, exemplar [throws dictionary across the room and bangs head on counter] of the Canadian "autism community". It's here. If I can, I might get 'round to posting a few words about this stellar outpouring of "autism advocacy".

Bonnie Ventura said...

Hi Michelle. I've added your blog to my list of autism advocacy links on Aspergian Pride.

Bonnie Ventura said...

Also, I think "Autism Crisis" is a very good title for a civil rights blog because some readers will be reminded of the newsletter "The Crisis" by the NAACP.

Do'C said...

Excellent letter Michelle. Welcome to the blogosphere as well!

Michelle Dawson said...

Thanks Bonnie and D'oC.

Bonnie, I had no idea about the NAACP's "The Crisis". So that was a coincidence. Thanks for telling me about it.