Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Very Cool News..

This is just what we've been waiting for:

Levy Gets Serious About Autism

Alyssa Schwartz, canada.comPublished: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Toronto -- Canadian comedic icon Eugene Levy has taken on a surprising new role, and while it’s one extremely personal to him, there’s also nothing funny about it. While he’s best known for his colourful characterizations and over-the-top supporting roles, Levy’s voice was notably serious Wednesday as he appealed to Canadians about the need for a national autism strategy.
“This is a cause worth fighting,” said Levy, who agreed to become a spokesperson for Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) following a request from a cousin who has an autistic son.
FEAT is fighting to get autism treatments – which can cost families up to $80,000 a year – covered under medicare. Autism and autism spectrum disorders impact children’s development of social and communicative abilities and can range in severity. Some sufferers are able to achieve a fairly normal level of functioning while others may be completely unable to interact with others or to live unassisted.

“At the time (my cousin asked me to get involved), I knew as much about autism as you do,” Levy said. “I kind of knew what it was, I knew people that had children with autism, but that’s about it. I really didn’t know much about it at all.”

In an interview following a Toronto press conference Wednesday, Levy said the more research he did, the more he was just shocked by the toll autism takes on families. “Families are mortgaging their houses and taking extra shifts just so they can give their kids therapy. This should be covered under medicare. Families shouldn’t have to go into the poor house and become destitute just to give their kids some help.”

Currently, coverage for applied behavioural analysis (ABA) varies from province to province. Alberta, for example, funds up to $20,000 a year while Prince Edward Island assesses coverage based on income. But intensive treatment has been shown to allow a normal level of functioning in nearly half of autistic children.

“Children who receive this treatment can show remarkable improvements that enable them to be a part of society,” said Senator Jim Munson. Citing research from Harvard, Munson told reporters that covering treatment could save Ottawa some $1.5 million per autistic child. It’s estimated that there are some 50,000 children and 150,000 adults living with autism and autism spectrum disorders in Canada.

Under FEAT’s proposal, ABA would be universally funded in Canada and training and certification for therapists would be stepped up to improve access to treatment across the country.

“Addressing the problem is expensive,” Munson acknowledged. “But not addressing it is even more expensive.”

Levy acknowledged that autism and the issues surrounding coverage are probably way off most people’s radars. “If you’re not aware of it, it’s probably something you don’t think twice about,” he said.

Which is exactly why he was so eager to get involved. “There are a lot of great charities out there,” he said. “I’ve been involved with Sick Kids Hospital, I’ve been involved with Gilda’s Club and a lot of other organizations … but these are all major organizations that are up and running. They are able to get a lot of donations and have their own advancement and everything is covered under medicare. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, it’s all covered. This is not covered and it should be.”

For Norrah Whitney, the single mother of Lucas, an 11-year-old autistic boy, Levy’s involvement comes not a moment too soon. “It is such a relief, I can’t even describe it in words to you,” she said. “I think it’s going to raise the public awareness profile of autism through the roof.”

In addition to spending the last 10 years fighting for universal autism funding, Whitney has also spent the last year engaged in her own battle against cancer. “I have to find the energy to do this,” she said, when asked how she copes. “I have a child with autism and he needs this treatment and he’s made incredible, remarkable progress with this. I have a happy, funny, engaging young man as a son and he was really struggling as a young child.”

Currently, Lucas’ treatment, which Whitney estimates to cost about $55,000 a year, is paid for by the Ontario government under a court injunction. “Every day I wake up and if we have funding, we have funding. It’s always a wait and see – there are no guarantees,” she said.

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