Friday, August 23, 2019

Camosun student and instructor volunteer with Canucks Autism Network

March 20, 2019 by Katy Weicker, staff writer

A Camosun student and instructor have been volunteering with an organization that brings team-sports opportunities to autistic children. The Canucks Autism Network (CAN) currently helps support over 4,000 young autistic people living in BC and relies heavily on volunteers. 

One of these volunteers is fourth-year Sport and Fitness Leadership student Teresa Vivian. Vivian heard about CAN through a workshop the organization participated in at Camosun in her second year. Prior to that workshop, Vivian had no experience working with autistic kids. Last spring, she got involved with CAN, volunteering for a six-week multi-sport program.

Camosun College Sport and Fitness Leadership student Teresa Vivian (photo by Adam Marsh/Nexus).

“Each week was a little bit different,” says Vivian. “You would either be one-on-one with a child, or you would just be out on the gym floor playing with a whole bunch of them. There’s a wide range; some kids are more independent than others, so it really depended—each week was a little different, but it was fun. You’d just run around with the kids all the time and get a good workout in.” 

Camosun Accounting instructor Stan Yung, whose young son is autistic, also volunteers with CAN. Three years ago, when Yung moved here from Alberta, CAN was one of the first organizations he reached out to, as his son was already diagnosed as being on the spectrum.

“At that point, I started volunteering with them just to get a feel for who they were, and I was able to see firsthand how they worked with young kids, and how young kids who are special needs really had fun and flourished,” he says. “So, I ended up putting my kid in as soon as he became of age, and he’s been participating in Canucks Autism Network activities ever since he turned four-and-a-half, I guess.”

As the parent of an autistic child, Yung says the network is invaluable to him. He says that it’s difficult to integrate into everyday life with a child on the spectrum, pointing to enrolling in sports programs as an example.

“My child, firstly, he’s non-verbal, and then secondly, his motor skills are not the greatest, and so he would not survive in an organized sports setting, so an organization like the Canucks Autism Network is invaluable. I’ve mentioned this to other parents, where you can bring your kid to a CAN activity and they can do everything, and everyone accepts them there, and so you don’t have to worry—you don’t have to be self-conscious about your kid’s behaviour or anything like that. Everything is accepted.”

Yung says the network allows the opportunity for his son to relate to and interact with another person, although he admits it was tough at first.

“It was really challenging at the beginning because on many of the Canucks Autism Network sessions my son would just sit there,” says Yung. “He refused to participate with other kids, or other caregivers, or what have you. He just didn’t want to participate, whereas over time, I think with the patience of the volunteers, as well as paid staff, with the support and patience of them, he was slowly able to kind of get into it and start to enjoy himself.”

As a volunteer, Vivian also appreciates the opportunity to connect.

“The volunteer staff are just so patient,” she says, “and they’re so kind, and just seeing them interacting with the kids… Again, because I didn’t have a lot of experience, I would just kind of see what other people were doing, and it was just so amazing to see these kids who don’t necessarily have any experience with sports just running around, playing soccer, and just smiling and laughing.”

April 2 is the 12th annual World Autism Awareness Day. According to the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System’s 2018 report, one in 66 Canadian children is on the autism spectrum. 

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