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How to Find Autism Services and Supports

Resources available in both Canada and the US for families navigating an autism diagnosis

How to Find Autism Services and Supports

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As soon as our son Andrew was assessed and diagnosed with autism my husband and I started searching for services and supports. At the time, no nationwide resource existed to help us. Our social services and health care system were confusing and frustrating to navigate. And while that is still the case, Autism Speaks in both the U.S. and Canada has stepped in to provide invaluable assistance.

Autism Speaks was founded in the U.S. in 2005, with Autism Speaks Canada incorporated the following year. Jill Farber, Executive Director of Autism Speaks Canada, notes that both organizations collaborate closely with the autism community to build inclusive spaces to help autistic individuals reach their full potential.

Both organizations have many programs and services, but I’d like to highlight two of them:

  • Autism Response Team
  • My Autism Guide

As Carly Greenberg, Canadian Program Manager, explains, “Both programs have the same goal. They seek to help individuals – whether autistic individuals themselves, caregivers, family members, healthcare professionals or community members – gain access to information, resources, services and supports.”

Her US counterpart Andrew Nelson adds that these programs are national, free and apply to autistic individuals of any age.

two parents sitting with son at the kitchen table looking at a computer iStock

What is the Autism Response Team?

The Autism Response Team (ART) is an information line providing individualized support to parents and caregivers, as well as to autistic individuals, service providers and the broader community. The team takes an inquiry, does the needed research and helps navigate the system by answering questions and making connections with resources.

In Canada:

  • Telephone number: 1-888-362-6227 (not a live pick-up line, but the team will respond as quickly as possible)
  • Email: support@autismspeakscan.ca

In the U.S.:

  • Telephone number: 1-888-AUTISM2 (1-888-288-4762)
  • Email: help@autismspeaks.org
  • Live chat: can be accessed through their website Mondays through Fridays
  • Dedicated Spanish language toll-free number and email:
    • Telephone number: 1-888-772-9050
    • Email: ayuda@autismspeaks.org

Both organizations track the questions and topics asked about and focus on what the community wants. Some of the most common questions asked by parents and caregivers are centred around:

  • Where to obtain a diagnosis. In Canada, family doctors and pediatricians will typically refer to government programs in place; for example, Ontario has five diagnostic hubs where a child can receive a funded assessment, so that caregivers do not have to pay for a private assessment
  • For newly diagnosed children, how and where to begin the journey, from therapy to community supports Where to find local service providers, ranging from behavioural supports and speech and occupational therapists to community and social connections, support groups, clubs and camps
  • Where to find and access financial supports, whether for therapy, transportation to appointments, food, housing or daily living needs
  • Where to obtain information about education systems, advocacy and Individual Education Plans
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It’s important to note that Autism Speaks and Autism Speaks Canada are not direct service providers. As such, they do not make appointments or referrals, nor do they give recommendations or endorsements. Instead, they help navigate families to service providers and supports that may be helpful.

mom and daughter sitting together at the table looking at a computer iStock

What about the My Autism Guide?

This free online platform houses information about resources, services and supports so that parents and caregivers can make more informed decisions. Information is customized by age, location and interests, with AI-learning components providing targeted information. Caregivers can also search by category, for example by diagnosis, therapy and supports, or recreation and respite.

The My Autism Guide is available at www.myautismguide.ca (Canada) and https://guide.autismspeaks.orgAuthor: Jan Stewart is a highly regarded mental health and neurodiversity advocate and Chair of Kerry’s Place Autism Services, Canada’s largest autism services provider. Her brutally honest memoir Hold on Tight: A Parent’s Journey Raising Children with Mental Illness describes her emotional roller coaster story parenting two children with multiple mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders.

This article was originally published on Oct 06, 2023

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