Our Autism Journey
We knew. My husband, Ryan, and I had worked with developmental disabilities prior to starting our family; however, even when we recognized signs of disability in our first child we were still unprepared for the diagnosis.
I am the mother of two autistic sons, Owen (10) and Ben (8), as well as a daughter, Maddie. We have been an "autism family" since March, 2010, when Owen was diagnosed. Being a parent to children with autism is unlike any other experience in my life, and I am a better mother as a result. I am more invested in the lives of my sons, acting as their voice at school meetings, at doctor’s appointments, at new activities, and even at the playground. In all contexts, I am their advocate. With therapies in our Niagara community, with support and love from our families and friends, and with a huge involvement in community programs such as Autism Ontario’s (Niagara Chapter) summer camp, my sons have made tremendous progress. In a few short years, their diagnoses have been altered from severe non-verbal autism to mild/moderate verbal autism. I could not be more proud.
When the school-year routine ends at the end of June, families like mine enter a state of panic. Unstructured time for autistic children is difficult, and finding new, exciting things to do in the community is challenging. "Are people going to stare if my child has a meltdown? What if our favourite park is crowded, causing sensory overload? Will other children bully mine because of his behaviours?" – all of this and more runs through the minds of parents with autistic children. Keeping our sons and daughters occupied for two months with minimal support is difficult, and can put a strain on everyone in the family.
Autism Ontario offers our family a break by giving our sons the chance to participate in a rewarding camp experience. Camp affords me a worry-free time of relaxation, knowing that Owen and Ben are in good hands. The Autism Ontario Camp features highly-trained, understanding staff who support campers in enjoying all of the activities that a typical kids’ camp offers – swimming, trips to the zoo, drum lessons, and more. The boys enjoy a change from their everyday lives, build their independence, and make new friends while they are away, and our daughter enjoys having uninterrupted time with my husband and me at home. Without United Way’s funding of this amazing program, we would have much more difficult and stressful summers.
My family is deeply grateful for organizations which offer programs like this one, and for the organizations who help to fund them, making them cost-effective. Thank you for all you do! You put five big smiles on our family’s faces.