In September 2013, Sue Noble, a teacher-librarian and mother of a teenager with autism, brought together a small group of parents and professionals to discuss the need for increasing employment opportunities for youth and adults with autism living in the Okanagan.
Sue was looking toward the future for her son, Evan, and was concerned about how few opportunities were available for him and others when they graduated high school. She knew if she didn’t make things happen, they weren’t likely to happen in time to benefit her son.
The group met several times; some faces changed and some remained the same. Lively discussions took place about the lack of opportunities but also about the lack of a collaborative and cooperative approach to delivering high-quality, evidence-based programs and services for families living with autism. One message kept repeating – individuals and families need more support in many areas and throughout their lives.
In January 2014, Sue began meeting regularly with Vicki Cairns, a retired special-ed teacher with a private practice providing autism-focused services. Vicki was feeling overwhelmed by demand and lack of supports for the families she worked with.
Putting it Together
The idea of Autism Okanagan (AOK) was born during these meetings. Sue and Vicki continued to gather information and connected with two highly recognized organizations: Pacific Autism Family Foundation in Vancouver and The Ability Hub in Calgary. Both groups provided strong start-up mentorship and access to existing evidence-based programming ideas.
The search for board members began and by the end of May, six other committed parents and professionals agreed to sit on the board. In June 2014, the Autism Okanagan Association, a not-for-profit organization, was officially established.
AOK took over an existing not-for-profit, The Association for the Benefit of Children with Disabilities (ABCD). We are grateful they trusted our group and allowed us to benefit from the hard work they had done to establish and maintain ABCD for over ten years.
AOK is thankful to Els for Autism Canada for an initial start-up grant and their continued funding support each year.
To improve the quality of life for individuals and families living with autism by providing programs and activities in an autism-friendly environment throughout the Okanagan.