Experiences shared and hope kindled

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Shirley Kindred, centre left, along with Mario Milovac speak to a group of parents and educators about skills children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need to develop during a workshop last Friday at Harry Camsell School.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Shirley Kindred, centre left, along with Mario Milovac speak to a group of parents and educators about skills children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need to develop during a workshop last Friday at Harry Camsell School.

Autism can be a heavy burden to bear for both those diagnosed with it and their families, but sharing knowledge and experience can help lighten the load.

Autism can be a heavy burden to bear for both those diagnosed with it and their families, but sharing knowledge and experience can help lighten the load.

That is the aim, at least, of the six-part workshop being hosted in Hay River and Fort Smith for educational assistants working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their parents. It helps bring together two parts of the child’s world in an effort to make life a little easier for everyone.

“I love it. It’s free and it’s local,” said mother Valerie Daniels. “I get to sit with the educational assistants, I get to see what they do at school and learn what I can do when we go home.”

Daniels’ daughter was diagnosed with ASD five years ago, necessitating a dramatic shift for her and her family.

“This is all new to me,” she said. “It’s great to be able to learn and hear others’ experiences. They can give you all the handouts and pamphlets, but you don’t understand anything in them. Having the people here to talk to makes such a difference.”

The workshops, called Making Connections, runs from February until the end of school in six parts. The second just took place at Harry Camsell on May 8 with five people in attendance. The workshops cover the latest research on ASD, as well as practical skills children need to develop like self-regulation and communication.

“It’s really useful and important to the education of the child I work with,” said assistant Kate Latour. “Having this makes it so we don’t have to go backwards when something doesn’t work.”

Perhaps more than anything, participants spoke of the ease and friendliness they felt at the workshops, which really act as a safe and understanding place to talk about experiences, both good and bad. While working or living with a child with ASD can be an isolating experience, the workshops give people a chance to get together and talk about the wins and the setbacks, all while learning new strategies for the future.

“We’ve found that people have been really open about talking about their kids, the good experiences and the harder stuff,” said Sheila Kindred, an inclusive schooling co-ordinator with the South Slave Divisional Education Council. “Having the parents is so important so they understand the process better.”

Mario Milovak, the program support teacher at Harry Camsell and Princess Alexandra, runs the workshops with Kindred and said all children with ASD are different, so there is a lot to learn from each other.

“These sessions often run long because there’s so much discussion, there’s so much room for sharing,” he said.

-Sarah Ladik