Annapolis Valley walk helps with programs to fill gaps for those with autism

Heather Killen
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People across the Valley are stepping up to provide support people living with autism as part of the fifth annual Walk the Walk for Autism.

About 100 people and a pony participated in the Valley last year, raising more than $25,000 towards recreational programs and resources for local people living with autism.

Janet Kroetch, of Middleton, says the event will take place in nine communities across the province on June 14.  This year, the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia will meet at 10:30 a.m. at Rotary Park in Middleton.

“We’re expecting a good year,” she said. “About $10,000 has been pledged online and we hope that we’ll meet our goal of $30,000.”

So far, five teams have registered online for the Middleton walk, with more than 50 people committed to participating. Lots of activities are planned in the park following the walk around town, including a barbecue, bouncy castles, face painting, visits from the fire department and ground search and rescue group, a fish pond, jewelry sales, t-shirt sales and information tables.

 

About autism

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects the way an individual communicates and relates to other people. Children and adults with autism experience difficulties with everyday social interactions. 

It’s estimated that about one in 68 children have a form of autism. While it’s four times more likely to occur in males than females, autism isn’t related to any race, income, lifestyle or parenting.

Kroetch added that autism is one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorders, yet it remains one of the least understood and supported. Children with autism are generally well supported within the school system, but families need more resources to help at home.

More support is also needed for young adults who are transitioning from the school system into the workforce. The annual Walk For Autism raises money to provide these special resources and social activities that are not found in the community.

The Walk For Autism event held in Middleton last year, combined with generous donations from Scotia Bank and the cookie campaign from three local Tim Horton’s locations, supported programming here in the Annapolis Valley, Kroetch said.

Thanks to the money raised, they were able to offer summer day camps, music therapy, arts and crafts programs, therapeutic horseback riding, teen and adult social groups and even a resource library for families.

 

Resource centre available

The Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia is a Berwick-based resource center for families. Formerly known as the Valley Autism Support Team (VAST), the group joined Autism Nova Scotia in 2012 and aims to provide enhanced programs and services for people with autism living in the Annapolis Valley.

The group’s office, located in the same building as the Annapolis Valley School board, opened last year and is a much-needed resource for families living between Windsor and Annapolis Royal.

The degree to which a person is affected by autism falls along a spectrum, Kroetch said.  Some people have limited language capability and require high support, while others have exceptional language abilities and require very little support. 

Kroetch’s son, Jacob, graduated from high school, but has not fit into existing work programs created for people with intellectual disabilities. He’s independent enough to drive a car, yet he’s not ready to work independently in the mainstream workplace, she says.

They have searched the area for a suitable training placement, but so far nothing has worked out. The programs provided by the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia help address those service deficits and encourage him to develop his social skills to participate in a larger community.

“I want him to have a good quality of life,” she said. “How can I provide that if no programs exist to help him? I worry he’ll have no life skills, no job. I know 10 others just like him. And I know their parents are thinking what I’m thinking, what will happen we’re gone?”

This concern is backed up with statistics. It’s estimated that only 18 per cent of individuals with autism become independent as adults, with more than 40 per cent of autistic adults continuing to live with their parents.

It’s estimated that up to 40 per cent of autistic adults will develop some form of mood disorder as a result of isolation and communication challenges they face throughout their lives.

The resource center tries to provide interventions to address this isolation through various programs that encourage social interaction.  Families can contact the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia by calling 1-902-375-3031 (office) or emailing avautism@gmail.com

Visit them online through the Autism Nova Scotia website, www.autismnovascotia.ca/  

To support the fifth annual Walk The Walk For Autism, visit www.walkthewalkforautism.ca/middleton

Organizations: Autism Nova Scotia, Walk The Walk For Autism, Annapolis Valley Chapter Scotia Bank Valley Autism Support Team Annapolis Valley School board Windsor and Annapolis Royal

Geographic location: Annapolis Valley, Middleton, Rotary Park

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