The autism programs that changed our lives

Parenting

Two moms share how they navigated their children’s autism spectrum disorder diagnoses.

Created for “Surrey

When Daniela Emmerich de Souza Mossini Miskulin arrived in Canada in 2018, her nine-year-old son Gabriel had already received an autism diagnosis back in their native Brazil. Finding help for Gabriel in a new country was hard, but Daniela and her family discovered an oasis of care and support through Surrey Place, a not-for-profit organization that serves people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the Toronto area and northwestern Ontario.

“It can be difficult coming from another country without connections,” says Daniela. Surrey Place “helped us navigate the Canadian system.” 

Daniela was soon able to access Surrey Place’s Foundational Family Services to ease Gabriel’s transition and support his development. The free program is immediately available to any family enrolled in the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). It helps to build a family’s capacity to help with their child’s learning and behavioural progress in a variety of evidence-based ways, such as through family mentoring, caregiver workshops and transition supports. 

At Surrey Place, Gabriel also subsequently accessed applied behaviour analysis (ABA), which is a fee-based clinical service paid for through government grants to families. The two services “helped my son manage his behaviours during a challenging time,” says Daniela.

Autism services that benefit children and parents

Many families find that Foundational Family Services are an excellent way to quickly get started helping their children after an ASD diagnosis while they are waiting to access other, more customized, fee-based core clinical autism programs. Free services such as these can be life-changing for children and their families, says Dr. Nancy Freeman, a clinical psychologist and director of core autism services at Surrey Place. “Surrey Place helps children learn the skills they need to know to achieve their potential and helps families to be active, involved and engaged in their child’s success.”

Christine Fajardo experienced that help first-hand when she came to Surrey Place for help with her four-year-old son. This year he completed the Entry to School Program, another free program Surrey Place offers to OAP-registered families. It builds children’s skills before they start school for the first time and continues to provide support once school is underway.

“The Entry to School Program has taught my son many new skills, especially self-regulation and tolerating his peers. It takes him less time to calm down,” says Christine, who also has an older daughter with ASD. “It was also wonderful how Surrey Place held a graduation ceremony for the students.”

Surrey Place provides a unique continuum of care, with services available throughout the lifespan of clients, from infancy to adulthood. New services continue to be added to the autism program, such as speech-language pathology and occupational therapy, which contribute to Surrey Place’s interprofessional, evidence-based approach. In addition to Foundational Family Services and the Entry to School Program, Surrey Place offers Caregiver-Mediated Early Years Services, another free program that coaches parents in strategies to support their young children’s skill development and help them reach individual milestones.

What happens when families feel supported

“When parents see their goals for their child being achieved, they experience that wonderful feeling of success and the accompanying relief of reduced worry,” says Dr. Freeman. This is what Surrey Place offers: the opportunity to learn how to cope with an ASD diagnosis, to connect with other parents in similar situations and to gain important parenting skills, which also serve to reduce anxiety for the whole family.

Life has grown easier for Christine and her children since they connected with Surrey Place’s services: “I’ve learned to understand [my kids’] needs and to use the strategies I’ve learned,” she says.

And as Daniela and her family continue to navigate their new life in Canada, they’re gaining access to even more resources to give Gabriel the best start possible so he can reach his full potential. “I am grateful for the wonderful support Surrey Place has provided,” says his mom.

Looking for help after an autism diagnosis? Start with Surrey Place today: surreyplace.ca/now-what

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