MP Mike Lake (Edmonton, Mill Woods, Beaumont) spoke with more than 500 York University psychology students about his experience as a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
He referred to York psychology Professor Jonathan Weiss, who organized the talk and is the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, as a rising star in ASD research. He told students that life with his son Jaden is a “real adventure,” saying he essentially functions as a three or four year old in a 19-year-old body.
Lake, who has served for nine years in Parliament, said he wanted to impact change in three areas – ASD children and their families, child health in the developing world and homelessness. “Every day you have 960 minutes of waking time to invest,” he said.
When looking at autism, Lake said it is important to focus more on opportunities than on challenges, adding how people think of others needs to change. Lake, who spoke at World Autism Awareness day and with the United
Nations, stressed the need for early intervention, saying it is critical to have intensive intervention for ASD children between the ages of two and six. But that, he says, is not happening as early as it should.
For children with ASD, transitions matter a huge amount, such as a switch in schools or a change of doctor.
Lake says it’s not enough to focus only on inclusion; people must also think in terms of contribution and expect more from those with ASD and special needs. For Jaden, he says, they are fortunate he has an inclusive environment. Jaden is able to work at the library, where he thrives sorting and returning books to the shelves and possibly has a future career. His teacher thinks he should be paid for his work. The school also includes Jaden in musicals and plays, using a buddy system to make sure he is OK during the performance. Students say he is “like a brother” and he always encourages everyone with high fives.
Things do not happen on their own, they are made to happen, says Lake, citing a quote from John F. Kennedy that is applicable to Jaden who has benefitted enormously from behavioural therapy, and from the help of university students and doctors.
It is important to respect each other and everyone’s differing circumstances, says Lake. He suggested that everyone should take two out of 960 minutes in a day to notice something they wouldn’t have yesterday.
Lake also has a daughter, Jenae, who says she likes that unlike most girls with older brothers, Jaden is never embarrassed to be seen with her. Even though she needs to prompt him to do things sometimes, if Jaden did not have autism, he would not be the person he is today.