For autistic children and youth of Niagara the pandemic has made life more lonely and stressful, and taken away many of the therapies and supports that help them learn and cope. But an $8,000 grant from the Niagara Community Foundation’s Community Grants program gave the local chapter of Autism Ontario the ability to add some safe fun to their lives.
Families could request kits to do fun at-home activities such as holiday cookie decorating. They were also invited to participate in safe, outdoor activities at events designed for their children’s comfort. It was lifesaving to have positive ways to interact with their children or attend events that made them feel safe and free of judgement, said parents.
“The visit to Heartland Forest was such a great experience for our daughter,” said one mom. “She loved being able run freely, to dance, to participate. As parents, it was a relief to be in an environment where there was no judgement of the different behaviours our daughter has. She could be her special self and the other families understood.”
“Our son felt comfortable,” said another parent. “We are always so grateful to have Autism nights offered. It is a warm feeling being surrounded by other families we can personally relate to.”
The pandemic has also hampered the ability of the local chapter, Autism Ontario – South Region, to organize fundraising events, so the grant from the Niagara Community Foundation helped the organization evolve to meet their families’ needs. Being able to offer virtual programming, outdoor programming, and take-home kits allowed Autism Ontario – South Region to develop new relationships with local businesses and attractions, which in turn encouraged these community partners to become increasingly mindful of the importance of diversity and creating an inclusive Niagara.