NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE —World Autism Awarness Day has multiple meanings for Don Wood and his family.
Wood’s 11-year-old son Tayler has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), so taking the time to promote a more accepting community is an important task. That’s why Wood and his parents, Barb and Doug, participate in the World Autism Awareness Day Raise the Flag event each year at Niagara-on-the-Lake. While Don lives in St. Catharines, Barb and Doug – or Nana and Papa to Tayler – live in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“This is such an important opportunity. We need to raise awareness. We need to promote the concept of an accepting community,” said Don following a flag raising at Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Hall on Monday — just a day after World Autism Awareness Day. “Autism is a huge spectrum, and really all anyone wants to do is fit in.”
That’s where some of the community supports, including those offered by Autism Ontario’s Niagara Region chapter come in. Through programs offered by the chapter, along with other support services ranging from Bethesda to Niagara Children’s Centre, the youth diagnosed on the spectrum are provided opportunities to try and socialize, and live as normal life as possible.
“They just want to blend in with everyone. They want to have friends. They just want to be respected and accepted,” said Don.
That’s why the need for awareness is so crucial.
“If we can help people take time to learn about the challenges and how it affects peoples’ daily lives, I think it will help people better understand,” said Don.
“Every child has something special about them,” adds Barb. “They want places to go, the chance to socialize.”
Activities offered locally include programs for toddlers, children, youth and adults. There are summer camps, social clubs, parent and tot drop ins, and much more, all aimed at offering opportunities for anyone living with ASD regardless of their age and level of support.
During the flag raising, Autism Ontario Niagara chapter volunteer Stephen Bedard said World Autism Awareness Day is about all people coming together to show support for individuals and families touched by ASD.
According to Autism Ontario one in 94 people are diagnosed with ASD, which is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Individuals with diagnosis — estimated to be about 100,000 Ontarians — can fall anywhere on the spectrum.
“This is a day to celebrate uniqueness and to see the potential in those around us,” said Bedard. “It is only through learning, education and awareness that we can come to better understand one another and create a society where everyone is supported, included and accepted.”
Bedard has two teens who have been diagnosed with ASD and is passionate about giving back.
“This is about education, but it’s also about breaking down stereotypes,” he said. “People make assumptions, but everyone is different. It’s so easy for people to feel isolated, so we need to do everything we can to help individuals live their life to the fullest.”