Director, Marketing and Communications
Taking a multi-faceted approach to help autistic Canadians means providing resources, funding and solutions.
The definition of autism can be complex. It is not a single entity. Also called autism spectrum disorder, it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that refers to a range of conditions. They vary widely as they relate to a range of subtypes – caused by various combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
Autism is characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as unique strengths and differences. In Canada, an estimated one out of 66 children will be affected by autism. It can be reliably diagnosed by age two, but the average is age four and is a lifelong condition.
Unparalleled support for the autism community
One non-profit organization leading the way is Autism Speaks Canada. It began in 2006, a year after it launched in the United States. They have made extraordinary contributions to the autism community. The Canadian organization is devoted to providing solutions across the spectrum to families and autistic people. To accomplish this, it has set a number of important goals, including enhancing resources and services, increasing understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism Speaks Canada is also actively involved in advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. The numbers are impressive – $9.8 million invested in scientific grants, $4.9 million provided to service organizations promoting collaboration and building capacity to support the autism community.
Those funds and others directly impact the wellbeing of autistic children and their families with initiatives such as special tool kits with critical information, support and resources. They also make sensory-friendly events possible, empower the development of a national autism strategy, help develop better diagnosis protocols, provide free access to service providers and nurture advancements in scientific research. To help support this invaluable work, Autism Speaks Canada organizes an annual walk (happening virtually on June 13 this year) as part of their fundraising efforts.
Working closely with others
Forming partnerships play a key role in Autism Speaks Canada. It works closely with many stakeholders to help improve and support the lives of those with autism and their loved ones. Working with The Hospital for Sick Children, researchers were able to identify new genetic changes and specific genes linked to autism. And, in collaboration with Toys R Us Canada last May, the organization helped launch development play packs, designed to encourage developmental milestones for children with autism.
Autism Speaks Canada is also involved in advocacy work. It joined forces with other disability groups to raise awareness and urge action around prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for the autism community. It’s just one of the ways the organization aims to improve the lives of those with autism and their families.
April brings the launch of the annual World Autism Month campaign. Throughout the month-long event, Autism Speaks Canada will celebrate its continued commitment to diversity and inclusion by featuring authentic stories of autistic Canadians across the country. Each week, their featured profiles will shine a light on their dreams, strengths and struggles.
“We believe in empowering every autistic member of our community,” Sarah Ahmed, director marketing and communications, Autism Speaks Canada. “This can only be achieved when people truly understand autism and accept people with autism for their unique strengths, challenges, dreams, and goals. We’re committed to building a kinder, more inclusive world for all people on the autism spectrum in everything we do.”