Autism is a complicated condition and it is complex because it affects our children and every case is unique and different. Autism generally includes problems with communication and behaviour. It can involve a wide range of symptoms and skills. People with autism may have trouble understanding what other people think and feel, and it’s often difficult for them to express themselves. That’s only the beginning.
In Ontario, there has been an explosion of media attention based on government cutbacks to funding for the special needs of autistic children. It’s expensive to get the proper assistance and support. Families can easily pay in excess of $80,000 per year for child psychologist fees, speech therapy, devices, support at school, tutors after school and the list goes on. There is also an incredible tax on the family dynamic, as siblings and parents are affected. This stress can lead to other difficult outcomes, such as divorce. Solutions are scarce for the many parents who will do anything to help their child. These kids have big dreams and goals just like their children. The thing is, there’s an opportunity to break the stigma associated with the label of autism. Education, awareness and community support are key. These families are not alone. Early intervention is one of the biggest tools that set a child up for success. The challenges are emotional, physical and financial.
Far too many parents find themselves in disbelief after a diagnosis confirms their child falls on the spectrum. “There is so much stigma attached, I felt so bad. I worry,” one mother told me. “‘Will we have a normal life?” One thing is for sure—their path is going to be altered in a way that they don’t yet understand. One in 66 Canadian children are diagnosed with autism between the ages of five and 17 across all racial, social, gender and socioeconomic lines. Parents are advocating for their children and many different foundations and groups have been started with the goal of raising awareness and to support families effected by autism. Waves of Changes for Autism is one of these charities and they are creating hope and a positive impact in their community. This charity is run by volunteers. Their goal is to assist as many families as possible affected by autism to alleviate the strain of expensive crucial specialized treatment. “It’s beautiful to be part of,” says volunteer Ellen Contardi. “When we help one child at a time, we give them the ultimate gift of hope. Our hope as an organization is that this help will make living with autism a little bit more manageable and these children will move toward their potential.” Waves of Changes For Autism provides funding for all related costs, including communication devices so that non-verbal children can communicate with their families.
Founded in 2016, Waves of Changes for Autism has raised close to $1 million through the support of individuals and two main events including “Sip and Savour” and an annual gala. To date they have funded more than 235 eligible applications. “Society focuses on disability, not ability. These children have great ability and that is our focus,” says one volunteer. “This is the spirit of helping in our community at its finest.”
“My son’s future is bright,” says one mother. “He is a happy, active kid. We’ve learned how to create options that set him up for success.” Another mother shares, “Our family was blessed the day we came across this wonderful organization. I am very grateful for all they have done for my children, who now have a chance to learn and develop skills to be successful and gain confidence in their everyday life.” Change starts with awareness and this is only the beginning. If you are interested in learning more or becoming part of the wave of change, you can learn more at wavesofchanges.ca.
Photography by Randy Phipps