The Canadian Club of Halton hosted Dr. Terry Bennett MD as guest speaker at their latest dinner meeting at the Oakville Conference Centre. Her subject, “Learning from Children and Families Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)”, is a timely one. ASD is a high profile mental health and development issue affecting thousands of children, adolescents and adults and their families in Ontario and across Canada.

Co-Director of the McMaster Autism Research Team and a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist with the Offord Centre for Child Studies, Dr. Bennett provided her audience with a basic understanding of ASD – its causes, how it’s treated and why it seems to be on the rise. ASD refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. Autism’s most obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age although in some cases as early as 18 months. The prevalence of autism in Canadian children is now estimated to be 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

Dr. Bennett commented “When you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism”. No two are the same. “45% are affected by an intellectual disability, 65% have language impairments, 79% have motor skill differences or delays, 50-70% have emotional and behavioral challenges and 50-80% have sleep disorders and other medical challenges”.

Dr. Bennett’s clinical and research interests focus on developmental psychiatry – understanding risk and protective factors for optimal child mental health and development, as well as how prevention and timely intervention programs can
help children, youth and families. She believes that autistic children can achieve enriched mental health and the the blessing of advanced development and functioning when they engage the help of social supports, coping and
psychological resources.

 The autistic child wants to be thought of as someone who feels “I am different, not less”. This summed up Dr. Bennett’s talk for me. “Look at my strengths, my personal bests, and my surprises.” Focus on strength. Reduce disability. Talk to dimensions and growth.

 MacArt, the McMaster Autism Research Team, is advancing autism care through meaningful research, promoting early intervention, celebrating differences and tailoring a family centered approach to ASD children – in fact, to children of all ages.

More information can be found at the Offord Centre for Child Studies

Article by Janet Bedford

View photos from event.