How Toronto Star is Helping Autism Families this Christmas

The Santa Claus Fund is giving me all the feels

How Toronto Star is Helping Autism Families this Christmas

santa fund

I have a major soft spot for the Toronto Star.

Ever since they brought autism to the front page (literally) with their awareness project, I've been smitten. Few major media players have deigned to talk openly about what individuals and families affected by autism experience every day, so I laud the Star for boldly going where no paper had gone before.  

Is Autism The New ADHD?

Now, in conjunction with Toronto's Geneva Centre For Autism, the Star's Santa Claus Fund aims to throw a little light on what can often be an extremely dark time of year for families affected by autism. Geneva helps out more than 3,000 families, some of whom will receive a gift box come December.

Even though autism is one of the "fastest growing disorders in the world," few people are fully aware of the financial burdens that accompany diagnosis. Therapies and treatments costs can come with a price tag in the tens of thousands per year. That's money the average household just doesn't have.

I know a handful of kids with autism, and they come from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances. Autism doesn't discriminate.

As Geneva's director Debbie Drewett points out: “Some may be single-parent families. Some may be newly landed immigrants to Toronto. Some families may have more children with autism. We’ve seen families that have twins or triplets.”

Many affected families are on social assistance, and may be reluctant to reach out and ask for SOS. Helping your kids shouldn't be a luxury; it should be a given, right? So in the true spirit of the season, a small gift from your family may mean the world of difference to another. 

I can say from personal experience that I look forward to the Geneva's holiday party every year, because it is the one place where my little guy is guaranteed to experience warmth and acceptance.

He gets to partake in crafts on his own terms and hang with a Santa who 'gets' him. And at no point in the day will anyone bat an eyelid if my son says or does something out of turn. Geneva provides a wonderful sense of community. I can't tell you how good it feels to be among fellow parents who understand each other without having to utter a word. 

"What could be more important than helping children?” asks Drewett in what is probably the most rhetorical of questions. ever. 

Click here if you would like to donate to the Santa Claus Fund, or call 416-869-4847. Cheques can be mailed to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, One Yonge St., Toronto, ON, M5E 1E6.

You may also enjoy: Is Autism "The New ADHD"?

Image credit: Flickr | Bart Fields


Is Autism "The New ADHD"?

More than a trendy, over-diagnosed label

Is Autism "The New ADHD"?

Autism: Is It The New ADHD?

There are lots of stories floating around out there. You may have read about autism being touted as "the new ADHD"—over-diagnosed and curable. But as your mama probably told you, be careful what you read. 

First off, there is no "cure" for autism. Be wary-very wary–of anyone who says otherwise because they are likely trying to sell you a snake potion. Unfortunately charlatans are drawn to vulnerable populations, and special needs is about as vulnerable as it gets. We love our kids. We want to help our kids. Can they be magically healed by your new therapy? I don't think so.

Behind every person who has been miraculously cured of autism is a person who has worked very hard at incorporating adaptive behaviours over many years. You can show fewer ASD traits, but that doesn't mean you ever stop being autistic. The brain adapts to a degree, but I have yet to be convinced that it gets completely rewired. Setting parents on that path of yearning can only give them false hope. That's why the terms "cure" and "healing" tend to rub me the wrong way. They imply a deep-rooted sickness. Of course I want my son to function to the best of his ability in a broken society. But I don't for a second wish him to change his unique self, of which his autism forms an intrinsic part.

People are desperate to account for the crazy jump in incidences of autism. Some are quick to assume that autism is just the latest trendy label doctors are slapping on kids who are maybe a little quirky, a little eccentric, socially awkward or just plain introverted. But anyone who knows a thing or two about autism knows that it is more than the sum of those parts. Yes, the spike in autism is alarming. Are all diagnoses accurate? Maybe not, but assuming that clinicians are over-diagnosing is doing a great disservice to both parents and the medical profession as a whole.

Clearly those who make that assumption are a bit hazy on the process of diagnosis. It doesn't happen overnight. In our case, it took years of observation before I was finally able to voice my concerns to my son's pediatrician. That conversation is not one you want to have as a parent. By the time you end up in your doctor's office, you are usually so torn up emotionally and devastated, yet you also don't want to let your pride stand in the way of getting your boy help. The last thing you want for your child is a label. What you want are answers to the questions that have kept you up at night for months, if not years.

If you are lucky, your doctor will take your concerns seriously, at which point you will complete detailed questionnaires to see whether your child indeed meets a comprehensive list of criteria for autism. At this point, many parents will go home, reassured that their child doesn't tick all the boxes. But others will know in their gut if there is something genuinely amiss with their kid's development. Those parents will then receive a referral for assessment by a child psychiatrist/psychologist. In our case, the "assessment" consisted of a shrink trying to engage my son for about 20 minutes. Her diagnosis was scribbled out on a notepad, but it didn't sit right with me. It felt too quick, too subjective. 

So we got a second opinion. Standardized testing was carried out over the course of two days, by various professionals, all of whom specialize in autism. When the formal diagnosis came, there was no doubt in my mind that it fit. Like a glove. Are there clinicians out there who are less scrupulous about their diagnostic procedures? Probably, yet I'm sure the vast majority do not take such cases lightly. Few would be willing to stick a label on a child if they weren't absolutely convinced of its authenticity; and fewer parents still would accept that label if they knew in their heart of hearts that it didn't fit.

Autism is not a personality quirk, a passing trend, or even a "curable" disease. It's a neurological disorder. Let's not lose sight of that.
Image credit: Flickr | Eden, Janine and Jim