Autism Awareness Day: 10 FAQs for Parents

By Scott Bark, M.P.A., Lead Manager, School Support Program, Kinark Child and Family Services

For parents, having a child with Autism can feel rewarding as well as overwhelming at times. Each April, the world gives us a moment to  pause and celebrate Autism Awareness Day through local and national events and initiatives. On this day, when you see the flags flying and a sea of blue shirts, may they serve as reminders of the people and supports out there for you and your child: you are not alone.

Following is a list of Frequently Asked Questions by parents that I compiled to help further support parents while doing our part to raise awareness.

A very important thing to know is that you are not alone. Though you may feel stressed or at times, overwhelmed, I can’t emphasize enough the value of connecting with other parents with whom you can talk and relate. Here is a list of some of the parent groups and support networks that are available.

Autism Ontario lists support groups here:

York Region: https://everybodyisaok.com/support-and-drop-in/

Simcoe Region: http://www.autismontario.com/client/aso/ao.nsf/Simcoe/Support+Group+Meetings

Please contact your local Autism Ontario chapter for other resources available for your child, their siblings, or for parents.

Seek help from a qualified professional. A diagnosis can only be made by a qualified, licensed physician, psychologist, or psychological associate using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) criteria. Parents should visit their child’s pediatrician or family doctor for a referral to a specialist if they are concerned.

The province established five regional Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnostic hubs across the province. Click the following link to view them: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/specialneeds/autism/diagnostic-hubs.aspx 

In general, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have impairments in social communication and repetitive, stereotypical behaviours. These often present early in life and may change as children develop. Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, each child with Autism has their own unique profile of strengths and needs. For example, some may have a great memory for facts or may learn best through engaging in their special interests.

One of the most important things to remember is that just like everyone else in this world, children and youth with Autism are unique individuals.

Click here to view 5 fast facts about Autism.

Note: A new report, release on Thurs, March 29th by the Public Health Agency of Canada says approximately 1 in 66 children and youth are now diagnosed with ASD in Canada.

As the province transitions to the full implementation of the Ontario Autism Program, Kinark continues to provide a range of evidence-based, family-centred behavioural services ranging in intensity. Individualized treatment plans are developed for each child/youth admitted to the OAP to meet their unique needs across all developmental stages. Treatment planning is done in close collaboration with parents/caregivers and other autism service providers.

Kinark is currently working with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and its community partners toward the full implementation of the new OAP.

Summer camps are supported by all five of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ regional offices. These camps provide parents of children with Autism with a much-needed break and help children have fun and build new skills. Autism Ontario also administers a reimbursement program funded by the Ministry for families hiring one-to-one support workers so their child can attend summer camp.

Contact your local Autism Ontario Chapter or Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ regional offices for additional information.

In June 2017, Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services introduced changes to service for children and youth with autism with the launch of the new Ontario Autism Program (OAP).

In the new program, all children and youth diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by a qualified professional are eligible to receive flexible and individualized services based on their personal needs, strengths and goals until the age of 18. The goal of the new OAP is to provide families with services that are well coordinated, family-centred and responsive to the unique needs and potential of each individual child and/or youth.

Families not already receiving services in the OAP or who are not already on the waitlist for OAP services, can register for the Ontario Autism Program through a toll-free number. These single points of access are available in nine service areas across Ontario.

To learn more about the OAP, click the following links:

https://www.kinark.on.ca/autism-services/

http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/specialneeds/autism/ontario-autism-program.aspx

http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/specialneeds/autism/single-point-of-access.aspx

Great resources include Autism Ontario (www.autismontario.com), Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.ca), and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/specialneeds/Autism/index.aspx)

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services also has a list of FAQs regarding the OAP as well: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/specialneeds/autism/autism-faqs.aspx

Check with service providers in your region about education, training, resources and supports available to your family. At Kinark, we have a team of waitlist Family Resources and Support Coordinators (FRSCs) who provide information and resources to families while they are on the waitlist. Our FRSCs can also direct you to upcoming education or training opportunities that may be available in your area.

  • Attend an Autism Ontario flag raising ceremony on April 3rd

Autism Ontario will be raising flags to raise awareness. Click the following link to see all of Autism Ontario’s flag-raising events: http://www.autismontario.com

To confirm participation in your area, go to your local chapter of Autism Ontario’s website. This information has also been shared on Kinark’s Facebook account.

  • Light it Up Blue on April 2nd/3rd

Kinark staff will also be wearing blue to work on April 3rd to support Autism Speak’s Light it Up Blue initiative. Click here for more information on how you can participate and how Autism Speaks is working to extend the initiative throughout the month: https://www.autismspeaks.ca/get-involved/participate/world-autism-month/

Throughout the month, they will also be highlighting stories, sensory friendly events, partnerships, etc.

“There’s lots that we can all do,” says Bark. “Let’s raise awareness together.”