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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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