Jimi and Unseok have three loving boys with ASD. Their oldest is 9 years, the middle child is 6 years and the youngest is 5 years. Each one of their sons are on different points on the spectrum making it extremely challenging for the family to interact with them in a predictable manner. The love and dedication however is commendable, not only from the parents, but also from the grandparents. Their acceptance and understanding of ABA and IBI for their children has contributed to substantial gains in their children; thanks to the funding provided by Ontario government.
Their oldest son is a very loving child but has difficulties in group settings and when interacting with peers. He is also sensitive to loud sounds and has a limited vocabulary. The youngest son is extremely affectionate and has difficulties with staying in one spot, attending, and self help to name a few. The middle son Daniel has challenges with his physical abilities, language, attending, and many other areas of functioning. What we take for granted is what these children strive to learn each day. Therapy has been a life changing experience for the children and their families. Without the funding, therapy would not have been possible, and these children would loose the possibility to grow.
Daniel, the middle child, could not walk when he first came to AIM Children’s Charity and parents had given up hope in his ability to walk. They accepted a life which involve dependency and a life in a wheelchair. They dreamed but their dreams seemed far fetched and impossible. But just like any child that comes through our doors at AIM, we saw the possibility, we saw the potential, and became committed to making the possibility a reality. Suki Choi, the Service Director; Vicente Melgoza, Daniel’s senior therapist, and the team saw potential that Daniel could walk given the right support. Suki conducted research and invited a physiotherapist to work with Daniel in collaboration with our IBI therapists. We can proudly say that after months of work, Daniel is now able to take some steps with support. Although he still cannot walk independently and needs full-time support; he has made tremendous progress and renewed hope where it was lost.
Daniel’s parents believed in him but found it hard to see possibility in the face of his physical challenge. They were helpless, powerless, stressed, and much more amidst the dream, love, dedication, and care for their children. It was through support, hope, faith, belief in the government, in the team, and in the possibility that Daniel will walk; that he made such tremendous progress. Therapy gave Daniel that second chance, therapy which was possible due to the financial funds and the vision that AIM had of Daniel’s future.
But while Daniel made progress and continuing to struggle to move forward, his funding from Ontario Autism Funding will end in a few months. Currently with Daniel’s funding from the government, he receives one to one therapy at AIM from 9am to 3:30pm. With the cut in funding, he will go from full time service, to less than half of the service hours. And like other impacted families, this family will have no choice but to send Daniel to school full-time.
Daniel will go to a public school and it is likely that he will spend his entire day in a wheelchair; due to the lack of support and no teachers with a comprehensive understanding of his needs. When he was first learning to walk, he was exhausted trying to stand. But he never gave up, he was driven. At AIM, the impossible once again became possible where he went from sitting in a wheelchair to using a walker, to walking a few steps independently. He has gone from being non-verbal, to vocalizing. He can also transform his needs and wants into request using Proloquo-2-Go to communicate.
Imagine seeing your impossible dream become real and then having it snatched away from the very government that assisted with making this dream real through financial support.
Daniel’s parents are terrified. They fear that the progress he made towards being independent at AIM will be in vain. They fear that he will be pushed around in a wheelchair at school and his ability to walk that the team and him worked so hard to achieve will be lost. His muscles will get weak, his drive will disappear, his independence will be taken away. They fear his ability to request with his iPad will be lost because it is unlikely the assistant or teachers in his classroom will have the time or the skill to use his communication program.
This family is also scared about the future of their other children who are also diagnosed with ASD.
The family has applied for the AIM IBI subsidy program; so we can try to offer as much one-to-one therapy as possible to their children. But even with that subsidy program, which the organization provides through fundraising and donor support; Daniel will not receive the service recommended to continue supporting his progress. Their youngest child will not receive full time therapy as well and will also need a placement in a public school. His parents fear what that will look like, since he can only sit still for about two to three minutes. Their nine-year old has very serious sensory issues and no group readiness skills which will also make public school difficult for him.
These are the very real effects of the changes that the Ford government has made to the Ontario Autism Plan. Parents will pay what they can, of course everyone wants the best for their children, but there are VERY few families in the province who can pay 60-80 thousand dollars a year without going into debt or bankruptcy. The other option is to not give a child the support they need to achieve independence and forced them to be dependent on government social programs for the rest of their life. The Ford government is giving parents an impossible choice. Where AIM focuses on making the impossible possible, the government is focused on making the possible impossible.
We are pleased to partner with the City of Markham to introduce students to Cornell Community Centre and Library as part of a School Readiness Program activity, designed to familiarize them with large public spaces and generalize skills they learn in one-to-one IBI sessions.
“It’s really important for our children with autism to experience going to a community centre and experience life outside of their one-to-one IBI sessions,” said Tamara Fernandez, lead therapist at AIM. “We are so grateful to the City of Markham and Cornell Community Centre for giving us the opportunity to bring our children with autism here.”
Our students spent the morning exploring the facility’s sensory room (Snoezelen Room) equipped with a ball pit, special lighting and objects designed for a variety of therapeutic purposes. Activities like these help our little guys with touch, exploration and balancing their sensory needs.
“We also went to the indoor playground. Over there we practiced taking turns, waiting, lining up. Skills that they would utilize in a school environment,” said Tamara.
This new partnership is the first of its kind for AIM Charity and City of Markham. The 120, 000 sq ft. facility also features a library, swimming pool and gymnasium and provides various inclusion services for the needs of all families in the community.
For Luke Hilts, Community Program Coordinator for Cornell, from the City of Markham’s standpoint, “Everybody has the right and the ability to play and we want them out there playing.”
Thank you Cornell and City of Markham for helping us plan a fun and educational day for our little ones!
It all started with a dream to help one struggling family with the cost of autism therapy. That dream grew to expanding our reach to just a few more families, then in to more community outreach. Today, we are proud of how that dream has multiplied. It is hard to imagine that 5 years later we would be celebrating the opening of a permanent AIM Home dedicated to bringing hope to families living with autism and fostering community awareness, acceptance and understanding.
Without the incredible participation and support we receive from our community partners and supporters, none of this would be possible. Over the past year and a half our staff, parents and volunteers worked tirelessly to not only support the continuation of our programs but towards the ambitious goal of raising funds for an AIM Charity centre committed to our dreams.
We have accomplished so much in a short period of time but there are so much more to be done. The opening of a new centre means we can now expand our reach to more families and have an even greater impact. With more therapy rooms, we are able to work one to one with more children and help change even more lives.
That decision to support one family nearly six years ago is what lead to the creation of Autism in Mind Children’s Charity. It inspires us everyday to keep pushing, to continue breaking barriers, to raise awareness and to expand our reach to more families in need of our love and support.
Written by: Tamara Fernandez, Therapist at Autism in Mind Children’s Charity
Christopher Reeves says, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable”. AIM’s vision allows dreams to become inevitable; reflected in our children. Whether it be the dreams of our parents, our staff, or the community; we at AIM strive to embrace dreams to make them a reality. Our staff share a common goal, to improve the lives of our families and children. This goal becomes a will; allowing our dreams to become inevitable.
A true story that correctly reflects Christopher Reeves’ saying is about a young child with very little interest in social interaction, no language, and an inability to initiate requests to use the washroom. When all seemed dark, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We all believed, willed and embraced the families’ dreams as our own.
I would always wonder, “what might the child sound like if we could hear their voice?”, “what would the family feel when their child asked them to use the washroom?”, “what would we all feel like if the child wanted to engage socially?”
And then one day it all happened. When she was picked up after a long day’s therapy, we said to her, say “ba”, and she looked at us and said “ba”. The excitement of the family and more so myself, still resonates with me today. I also remember the day she asked me to use the washroom; I jumped for joy. At this very moment, I realized that when our will took over, our dream could be achieved. I went home and dreamt about this moment; feeling ecstatic. Till today, this young child loves socially engaging with our staff, independently asks to use the washroom and now sings songs with us.
From saying nothing, to hearing her voice. From changing diapers, to responding to her request to use the washroom. From her engagement with a limited range of toys to her eagerness to engage with our staff. These are the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
THIS is what we do at AIM. We embrace the vision of our families, we make it our own, and we try our best to make their dreams inevitable.
TAMARA FERNANDEZ is a Lead Instructor Therapist at Autism in Mind Children's Charity. Her dedication inspires us to take dreams from impossible to inevitable.
Celebrating our 5th year anniversary as a charity is nothing short of a dream come true. From our first annual fundraiser to the AIM Hero Gala 2016, we are so proud of the growth and continued support we receive each year.
The evening celebrated our everyday heroes making a difference in the lives of our little ones. These are the unsung heroes of autism, our dedicated parents who support their children unconditionally, AIM staff and volunteers who provide valuable services, community members and partners who support us along the way and most importantly the children who inspire us every day.
This years gala was particularly special because it was the final push we needed for our AIM Home. That's right, with the support of our AIM Charity friends, we can move to a larger centre dedicated to our services and expanding our reach!
We are so thankful for everyday heroes like yourselves who are committed to supporting our programs and initiatives!
Our first Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon has been one of our most successfully fundraising efforts in AIM Children's Charity history! Our team of 25 AIM Heroes took part in the marathon, half-marathon and 5K to help support our AIM Home Fundraiser.
This event will help us secure our own location to grow our services for the children we serve and help more kids in the GTA community.
So proud of our therapists, volunteers and parents for raising $11,165!
Thank you AIM Heroes Nomé Izakaya for supporting us in your charity golf tournament and raising $2500 towards our programs and services. We can’t wait to do it again!
Community partners like you are at the forefront of our continued efforts to support families living with autism.
The talented teachers and musicians from Markham’s very own Pro-Music Conservatory graciously donated their time and talents at our Pro-Music “Give Back” Recital.
Attendees enjoyed an evening of classical and jazz music and listened to parents share the story of their journey with AIM. Our parents helped deliver our message that children with autism don’t fit into a box. There is no one size fits all solution and that every child is unique and experiences the world differently. While the journey is long and there may be many failures along the way, at AIM Charity we want to always encourage our parents to try everything and never give. Nobody learns without getting it wrong.
Thank you musicians, volunteers and parents who helped to make this night a success. This evening would not be possible without our awesome attendees who support our events, buy raffle tickets, invite their friends and family and share in our vision.
With community events and fundraisers held throughout the month of April, Autism Awareness Month is one of our busiest months of the year. We proudly share AIM Children's Charity's vision of inclusiveness and educate our community about autism.
We had a great time speaking with Arirang Korea TV about World Autism Awareness Day at our Toonie 4 Autism kickoff event at Galleria Supermarket. We also teamed up with Galleria throughout the month of April to help raise awareness and support of the continuation of our programs.
Our friends Ayra and Isobell from Markham District High School did an incredible job hosting a cupcake sale for our Toonie 4 Autism fundraiser. Thank you ladies for your amazing contribution! We are so proud of young community members like you who take the time and initiative to be a part of the AIM team.
Autism education is an important pillar to insuring a more inclusive society for children with autism. It was great to see children learn about autism awareness at Beckett Farm Public School. Students and teachers helped raise awareness and grew a beautiful autism tree. Big thank you to teacher Talia Kniznik who coordinated this event for AIM at her school.
Thank you also to Markham District High School, Bean Around the World, "I Am" art show, Black Walnut PS and Milal Church for supporting our Toonie 4 Autism fundraiser. We are so grateful for friends like you who are helping us bring communities together to support children with autism.
Video by Arirang Korea TV for our Galleria Supermarket event
We are incredibly amazed and grateful to our guests who showed their support at our “TD Bank Masquerade Gala 2015”, our largest fundraising event to date!
Our masquerade theme represented a "mask" of normality worn by many families living with autism. In many countries autism is viewed as a source of disappointment, annoyance, shame or worse. According to some researchers, stigma may keep families from seeking a diagnosis and services for their children, from participating fully in their communities, and from enjoying the same quality of life as their neighbours.
As we work to educate and engage our community about autism, we also want to encourage our families to unmask their struggles and share their stories. Parents, by telling your story we can promote acceptance and understanding together.