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Charlie Watt

The Hon. Charlie  Watt, O.Q. Appointed to the Senate by the late former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Senator Charlie Watt represents the province of Quebec and the Senatorial Division of Inkerman.

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World Autism Awareness Day

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Statement made on 02 April 2012 by Senator Jim Munson

Hon. Jim Munson:

Honourable senators, as much as I like a good fight, as Senator Duffy knows from days gone by, this is another fight. It is a fight on the issue of autism.

Patrick, congratulations, you have been a good sport.

My statement tonight is on World Autism Awareness Day.

By the way, these gloves came from George Chuvalo. What he said on the gloves here is — and Senator LeBreton will understand this — "Keep punching, Munchkin; I am coming back to town," whatever that meant.

Honourable senators, today is World Autism Awareness Day. The last time I stood before you to discuss Bill S-206, to legally recognize this day in Canada, I spoke optimistically. I said I hoped it would be passed by this date.

Today is April 2, and the bill is still in Parliament, but I remain hopeful. Indications abound throughout this country that Canadians are getting the message about autism. Bill S-206 is now in the hands of house committee members. It has reached this point thanks to the support of all honourable senators and all members of Parliament from all parties. As much as I would like to thank each of them individually and cite their kind and informed statements about the national autism crisis, my time is restricted. How encouraging it is to say that there are too many supporters from all sides to acknowledge in a statement.

I do not feel the need today to highlight the rising numbers associated with autism. We all know that more and more children in Canada and throughout the world are being diagnosed with autism. Each of us has a personal connection with the disorder as well. As a result, we are all much more sensitive about the disorder than we have ever been.

Positive changes are also taking place within the autism community. I would like to give you an example. I was at the University of Victoria about three weeks ago where some incredible software programs are being created for the treatment of autism. The centre's motto is "new tools for different minds."

A young autistic boy there had a lot of fun demonstrating one of the programs for me, a game called FaceMaze, which is a lot like Pac-Man. To move through the maze, you have to recognize and look at the facial expressions of little characters that pop up. The computer camera is linked to face-recognition software that assesses one who is successful. Basically, by challenging autistic players to express anger, joy and other emotions, this tool helps them develop the ability to communicate.

The centre's director is Jim Tanaka. The co-director is Joseph Sheppard, who is a professor there and is autistic, was on CNN today, which was just wonderful. The centre engages faculty and students, community professionals and people with autism and their families in the creation process. It gets them to react to how you are reacting. It is a simple thing.

The wonderful work done at this centre is one of the many reasons why I am proud, along with members of Parliament Mike Lake and Glenn Thibeau, to be included in a community that is committed to reaching out to autistic individuals. Within this community, there is so much intelligence, imagination and determination. Above all, there is heart.

More people are getting involved all the time. We are uncovering new ways to help autistic people and to break through social complacency. I hope that people living with autism and their families can see and are encouraged by, as I am, developments like these. I hope they are assured that they are not alone. They are important members of our society not only today, World Autism Awareness Day, but every day.

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