Autism event seeks to improve services in northwest B.C.

Some services are available to help children with autism but once they reach 19, those services drop off but support is still needed.

Organizers of the first-ever conference for families of those with autism hope it will help create more support and services.

Because of cuts to social programs and the number of children diagnosed with autism rising over the years, resources are getting fewer, says parent Rebecca Georges, whose 18-year-old son is autistic and transitioning into adulthood.

Some services are available to help children with autism as they grow but once they reach 19 and are expected to be adults and be more independent, those services drop off even though support is still needed.

The young adult with autism can look like anyone else that same age but due to behavioural and neurological differences, is vulnerable to manipulation even though they can be brilliant in certain ways.

People don’t understand that their perceptions and experiences are different,” says Georges.

Georges and her husband have worked with their son all his life to help him understand social behaviours that neurotypical people, or those without autism, learn but autistic people have trouble understanding because their way of thinking is different.

Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental disability that affects social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication, the ability to learn (in the usual way) and causes restricted and repetitive behaviours.

It’s a disorder that has a spectrum as it affects people differently, with a range of some people being very high functioning, all the way to others being very low functioning.

According to the US Centre for Disease Control, autism affects 1 in 68 persons, which is roughly 1 per cent of the population.

Typically, there are few services available for adults with autism, with provincial money only available for the most severe persons with autism.

Parents need to advocate for their child to receive needed supports but because it’s something they must constantly do and for years, some may give up or stop looking for help, said George

George says she’s very determined and when necessary, she and her husband have paid to take their son down south for supports and services he couldn’t get here.

Parents often also have to become medical health experts and may have resource people who can tell them how to do what their child needs but isn’t a service to provide the supports they need.

So parents end up doing everything 24/7.

If others take training to understand where the autistic person is coming from and how they think, then it makes life easier for everyone.

Autistic people are often unemployed or underemployed in their lives so employers are needed who understand that the person does have certain gifts and needs the right environment for those gifts to appear and blossom.

The Adult Autism Initiative Lunch and Launch is a one-day conference focussing on identifying challenges for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families in the region.

Three specific areas of focus will be employment, housing and community networking/ social connections in the North Coast area (Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers and Prince Rupert).

There will be a keynote speaker, Dr. Anthony Bailey from UBC, a parent testimonial and adults with autism as speakers followed by breakout sessions where attendees will discuss specific issues and brainstorm possible solutions.

Another goal is to start a support group that meets monthly, hopefully to start in September and Georges is looking for other parents to help.

An expert in behaviour intervention will be coming here in mid-April for a two-day workshop to help train people working with autistic people to better understand them.

Adult Autism Initiative: Lunch and Launch 2016 is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 at the Terrace Sportsplex banquet room. Open to parents of adult children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, community business leaders interested in inclusive employment and housing, service providers interested in liaising with community members to create an action plan to address regional issues.

There will be speakers, a networking lunch and brainstorming sessions. Registration is mandatory by emailing Kristie at Kristie@pngi.ca or 250-635-4479.