Imagine being the parent of a young daughter who has autism that is exploring services and programming options for her, along with the challenges and false starts that doing so might entail.
Now, picture having an autism specialist tell you that you already know too much about what’s available for your child and that their time would be better served assisting another family, not yours.
That crushing exchange was one of Ingrid Hansen Younger’s initial experiences, after learning her daughter, Kaitlyn, had autism.Not being able to get the timely help that Ingrid needed to support her daughter was a shock.
“I remember thinking, ‘Okay, what do we do now?,’” she recalled.
Ingrid lives in Grimsby, a small town in the Niagara Region, with Kaitlyn, who’s 12-years-old, and her son, William, who is 11. They both attend a school in their community, and Kaitlyn loves being in class with her peers and her dog, Catch. Life is busy with activities, and Kaitlyn has an online business in which she reviews and sells sensory toys.
Families often face stress and anxiety when dealing with a child’s diagnosis and how best to help them reach their full potential. In Ingrid’s case, she felt the most stressful part of developing a path for Kaitlyn was worrying about how to help her daughter, given local programs seemed segregated and she was told that none of what was available would be a good fit.
As a first solution, Ingrid read every book on autism she could find, while trying her best to help her daughter. However, Ingrid was looking for more, and it was during this time of searching for help that her friend suggested she attend Community Living Ontario’s Family Leadership Series weekend in Orillia.
“To be honest, my friend suggested we go away for a free weekend with our children, and I was curious and delighted that both my children could attend,” she remembered fondly.
What I discovered that weekend was how nice it was to finally come together with families where it was just all about the experience and not about the diagnosis, and to be with people who shared the same values.
Community Living Ontario’s Family Leadership Series works with families as a whole unit to explore what’s possible for their loved ones who have an intellectual disability. Often, relying solely on government or agency services and programming in their home community can leave families frustrated, disappointed, and on long waiting lists. The Family Leadership Series helps families to explore how they can find more natural supports in the community and to focus on what is possible in the moment, rather than waiting.
“I came back to my community empowered to seek out inclusive spaces for Kaitlyn. I also wanted to share the values that I was learning with people in Kaitlyn’s life, as well as other families in similar situations. Changing my mind set from what services Kaitlyn couldn’t access to looking at all the natural daily life activities where Kaitlyn already had a valued part and growing those opportunities,” said Ingrid. “It was not always easy because for some reason inclusion is not as accepted as it should be, but then I would go back to the group weekend and be inspired again to go home and move forward.”
Backed by a dedicated support network in the Family Leadership Series that was invaluable to her, Ingrid learned so much about what meaningful inclusion and valued roles in the community could look like. Ingrid learned how to advocate for Kaitlyn. She envisioned a future for her daughter’s online business, and this would not have happened without the Family Leadership Series.
“There are countless people I have met through the Family Leadership Series that I could call tomorrow and I haven’t talked to them in four months, but they would say ‘What do you need help with?,’” she said.
Community Living Ontario’s family engagement initiatives help families to look at what is possible. Ingrid was fortunate to be referred to Community Living Ontario when Kaitlyn was 5-years-old. Others may have joined much later in life, but they too have found wonderful opportunities in their community to create a better life for their loved ones, and they have done it with the help of families who share the same values.
We have supported thousands of families over the course of our 65-year history, but thousands more need our help right now. With no stable funding, Community Living Ontario’s ability to continue our work is in jeopardy.
There are so many parents throughout Ontario who feel like Ingrid did a number of years ago, lost and with little or no support. Many families are either in crisis mode or close to it. With your donation, you have an opportunity to help us support many more families to become empowered.