Weekend of fun just part of CAN autism programs

The Canucks Autism Network (CAN) is helping bring kids and families together.

The Canucks Autism Network (CAN) is helping bring kids and families together.

CAN organized a family skate Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Shawnigan Lake School Arena followed by a showing of Kung Fu Panda on Sunday, all part of its province-wide mission to help enrich the lives of individuals and families living with autism.

“We provide high-quality adaptive sports, recreational, social and art programs for families living with autism. We also spread awareness and provide training to communities across British Columbia,” explained CAN’s director of development, Noah Morantz.

With over 500 volunteers across the province and a dedicated network of staff and coaches, CAN organizes leagues, camps, activities and fundraisers to help promote its goal and spread awareness of autism, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction. Activities include soccer, basketball, hockey, skating, physical literacy courses, biking, arts and craft activities and summer camps.

There’s no minimum or maximum age for those who take part in CAN programming although participants tend to be between five years old and their early 20s. However, Morantz noted that events such as Saturday’s skate are open to the whole family and all ages.

Challenges faced by kids who join can take a variety of forms.

“Some of the challenges could range from communication issues, sensory issues, light, sounds,” Morantz explained, adding that no child or teen is turned away from CAN programming and that staff, including the around 240 coaches around the province who work with CAN, always help kids succeed.

“We understand the kid. Every kid that comes to us we write down an individualized plan and staff it appropriately,” Morantz said. “We set every kid up to succeed.”

Morantz said he’s seen CAN programs make a big differences in kids’ lives.

“It builds confidence. You know a lot of kids just like any other kids, they just want to be part of a bigger thing,” Morantz said. “They want to be on a team, they want to have friends, they want to participate in typical activities that their friends are in.”

Leslie Smith is a Shawnigan Lake School teacher who also helps CAN with its local fundraising and is a big supporter of the work it does. Events like Savour Cowichan and Sipsaver are staples of CAN’s fundraising circuit locally, and Smith said they would like to hear more about what Cowichan’s autism community needs.

“We, the community, have been fundraising actively for four years and we’re doing that in order to provide meaningful programming for the families of the Cowichan Valley,” said Smith, whose 17-year-old son Gavin is autistic. “We ask and invite them to contact us at CAN and tell us what do they want.”

Smith noted that issues in autistic individuals may range from cognitive to social to being non-verbal or highly anxious.

“We also can have children like our child who has autism and also has epilepsy,” she said.

Smith said the summer camps offered by CAN have been “absolutely wonderful,” offering activities ranging from hikes, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming to arts and crafts, movie nights, food and singing around the fire.

“It replicates the true authentic summer camp experience for families who might not be able to have that experience,” Smith said, adding that CAN camps and events like Saturday’s skate and Sunday’s movie showing are not only a plus for the youth but also for their parents.

“Not only is it experiental for our children to have the opportunity to do fun things, but it’s a great opportunity for parents to get together and chat,” she said.

Morantz estimated around 50 families attended the camp last year, with use of the dorms, campus and cafeteria much appreciated by campers and parents such as Smith.

“Shawnigan Lake School has been phenomenally generous. It’s absolutely wonderful,” Smith said.

Morantz noted that CAN will also be running a several-day-long overnight biking camp and a multi-sport camp this summer. There’s a $25 membership fee to join CAN.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates one in 68 children have autism. This marks a 23 per cent increase since 2009, and a 78 per cent increase since 2007. The disorder is also approximately five times more likely to occur in boys than girls. Morantz currently serves around 2,500 of the estimated 11,000 children and youth in B.C. with autism.

“Our goal is to reach every single one of them,” Morantz said.

If you want to help out with CAN’s mission, they are currently in search of volunteers.

“We actually need more volunteers, from Shawnigan Lake, Duncan, Nanaimo,” Morantz said. “We need more volunteers because that’s really the lifeblood of our programs is people who can help support us.”

To find out more about CAN or to become a volunteer visit their website at www.canucksautism.ca.