When parents take to the streets on May 26 in the Purina Walk for Autism, it’s important to take pause to think about what they are walking for.
It’s more than an event to raise money for the thousands of children across Canada affected by autism; it is a tribute to the difficult journey that many parents have taken with their affected children.
Every parent wants the best for their child and to see them succeed and reach their full potential. It is difficult to describe the anxiety that grips you when you begin to suspect that your child may have a developmental disorder, and information isn’t readily available about what you and your child may face and how to deal with it.
That was my experience leading up to 2002, the year my son Jack was diagnosed with autism.
Autism is a neural development disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
Jack was born premature at 28 weeks and weighed only 2.5 pounds. Later, our family knew there was something wrong, but we weren’t sure what. Jack’s mother and I worked our way through doctors and specialists and, as people who had worked in health-related fields for many years, conducted our own research.
It was an isolating experience.
There was some relief when we finally received some answers from a team of specialists in Alberta who were able to make their diagnosis within minutes. The team told us what we were facing and explained some of our options.
Early intervention, we were told, was the key, and we were ready to access every available service to help our son achieve the highest quality of life possible. We soon discovered that services and resources in Yukon were limited.
We also discovered that we were not alone, and that there were other parents of children with autism in Yukon who were facing similar challenges.
It was with those parents in mind that I, along with many others, established Autism Yukon, which helps parents of newly diagnosed children get the information they need to make the best decisions they can.
Autism Yukon – www.autismyukon.org – provides a variety of information to parents who have, or believe they may have, a child with autism: where to start; who to contact; where to get a diagnosis; where and how to access community-based and government support; and available therapies and funding.
Thanks to a government that was receptive – not the case in every jurisdiction in Canada – Yukon has come a long way with regards to diagnosing and treating children with autism since 2002.
Funding and information is available and supports are in place and the availability of services and resources for treatment such as intensive behavioural therapy is no longer limited.
It is thanks to these supports that my son Jack has been able to achieve a quality of life that only a few years ago seemed out of reach.
When I join other parents and children affected by autism on May 26, I will not only be walking for Jack. I will be walking for every parent who has experienced, or will experience, the journey that comes with diagnosing, treating and supporting a child with autism.
Mike Nixon, MLA