It seems like another lifetime that I worked with children with autism and their families. But after one conversation with Dione Costanzo, Director of Autism Support Network of BC, I was brought back to all of it: sitting with families at Sunnyhill as they received the diagnosis, arriving on the doorstep of a family’s home for my autism intervention session, setting up visuals for a child in their preschool or after-school care setting…the first time a child said my name. I was an advocate, an educator and a firm believer in the potential of each boy and girl I worked with. Switching career paths has not squeezed autism out of my heart, and I’m thankful that today I get to work for these families from this platform.

I’ve seen firsthand what a family goes through as they await a diagnosis – often pushing their general practitioner for a referral to a pediatrician to initiate the process. I know the look in a parent’s eyes when they hear the word ‘autism’ and then the aftermath of being told they were eligible for funding, but given no direction about how to use it in their child’s best interest. I’ve seen the vulnerability and I’ve seen it being taken advantage of by people toting all kinds of cures for something that the medical community believes has no known cause or cure. In many ways, I’m an outsider looking in but I have been close enough to know that the work of Autism Support Network of BC (ASN) is valued and important. As Dione said half-jokingly, their work is not sexy but it’s necessary. I completely agree. Being in the trenches is often that way.

ASN offers solid, evidence-based information from parents who have been there to parents who are new to autism. They are very much about connecting families, forming friendships and building much-needed support. This includes a lot of 1:1 time with moms and dads over coffee or the phone. It also means monthly group meetings – all facilitated by volunteers – where families from the same neighbourhood can come together.

ASN also provides online resources through their website and Facebook pages (public and closed). And they print brochures with information about autism and Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) for doctor’s offices, and resource and community centres. Webinars and online courses are now a part of their repertoire and a solution for families in more remote areas of B.C.

The school experience is where 100% of the families seek support and a large part of ASN’s work is to help in this area; they educate parents about their rights and their children’s rights in school as well as the role of ABA in their child’s education. An incredible amount of advocacy is required at this level and parents need to know what is possible not just academically, but how to elevate self-help skills, social skills and communication skills.

After talking to Dione this morning, I marvel at how approximately 20 people are doing all this groundwork to serve over 6000 families. It is a huge network and initiative – and of course, funding is required.

Their biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up on Saturday April 8 from 6:30 pm at Semiahmoo Secondary school in South Surrey. And if you appreciate gourmet food, wine pairing and award-winning blues music, this proves to be a gala you can enjoy while making a difference!

The Blues and Bites Gala Fundraiser will be emceed by Global BC News reporter Catherine Urquhart and will treat guests to Top Chef style tasting stations by local culinary master Chef Peter Bucher. Paired with some B.C. wines, you can expect a gastric treat! Entertainment will be provided by Canadian blues musician Harpdog Brown and his Travelin’ Blues Show. Harpdog recently won the title of Blues Artist of the Year at Fraser Valley Music Awards.

Read more details of the event including bios of the chefs, musician and the mouth-watering menu, and grab your tickets ($125 each or $800 for a table of 8).

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