Although Port aux Basques has been celebrated as Canada’s most autism-friendly town, there’s much more to be done, according to Autism Involves Me (AIM) co-founder Joan Chaisson.
The provincial government needs to take similar action to better serve those on the autism spectrum, their families and caregivers, Chaisson says.
One of the items she would like to see changed is the current cutoff at Grade 3 for applied behavioural analysis. It’s too soon and support is still needed beyond that point, she says.
“That’s not enough. It needs to be addressed, and I’ve spoken with the Honourable (Andrew) Parsons (MHA Burgeo – La Poile) on this a few times,” says Chaisson. “Another thing that needs to be addressed is the adult housing for these people, for children with autism, because they’re all growing into adults.”
While AIM has continued to procure and develop solid resources for the area’s youth, Chaisson says she’s been receiving more and more inquiries from adults who were never diagnosed as children.
“Just diagnosis for adults needs to be something that (people are) more aware of because the people are saying, ‘where can I go to have an assessment done?’”
Chaisson credits the local employment centre with helping develop resources and employment opportunities for those in the community who face extra challenges.
Meanwhile, AIM continues to work with local businesses to train their staff to become autism aware and autism friendly.
“Autism aware is when they come to a meeting to be aware of autism and to learn about autism. And after that I meet with the people, with the businesses, and we see what we can do together to make them autism friendly,” says Chaisson.
Depending on the type of business, such as a food establishment, gas station or a grocery store, staff may even be trained to serve customers who are on the autism spectrum.
AIM is also working with the local high school to develop a sensory room for students which they hope to have in place when school opens again in September. One of the fundraising efforts for that involves the Light It Up Blue campaign. The group will also be at Foodland on April 18 to solicit donations for the new sensory room.
“We just got our grant for over $9,000 for our sledges for sledge hockey,” noted Chaisson. “That will be for anybody, not just for children with autism or people who have disabilities.”
Now that they’ve procured enough funds to purchase 10 sleds, Chaisson says AIM hopes to solicit enough volunteers to start a sledge hockey organization.
In October, Chaisson will be travelling to St. John’s to speak at an autism awareness meeting where she will talk about how Port aux Basques has become a model for other communities to support autism.
“We’re always growing,” says Chaisson.
And when it comes to overall support, she says the region’s populace has continued to answer the calls for help time and again.
“This town is just unreal. It’s a wonderful town and I’m so proud of it, and it’s not just for autism,” she says. “The town just comes together for everyone and I’m just proud to live here and to be part of what they do.”