One small town on Canada’s east coast is leading the way in accommodating people with autism, one sensory calming room at a time.
Channel-Port aux Basques, a Newfoundland town of fewer than 5,000 residents, is home to a community group called Autism Involves Me. Co-founders Joan Chaisson and April Billard launched the group after Chaisson, a retired special-ed teacher, started coaching Billard’s son who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“I fell in love with the child and the world of autism,” Chaisson told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “It’s so nice to try and figure out what makes them successful.”
Each child is different, she says, to the point where the work is like a “puzzle.” And with AIM, Chaisson and Billard have launched simple, low-cost methods for communities to help make solving the puzzle easier. They provide parents with a library of resources, they offer training for local businesses, and they even helped turn a local hotel into an autism-friendly environment complete with a sensory calming room, quiet rooms for eating and specialized bedrooms.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that one in 57 kids between the ages of five and 17 have autism in Newfoundland and Labrador. The rate isn’t much lower across the country — about one in 66 — but Chaisson’s town has faced particular challenges. Of the 300 children in elementary school there, 14 have been diagnosed with autism.
Chaisson and Billard’s efforts have drawn national attention. On World Autism Day in April, Today’s Parent magazine named Channel-Port aux Basques “the most autism-friendly town in Canada.” The title has caught on, and Chaisson hopes AIM’s initiatives spread across the country.
“It’s something that doesn’t cost a lot of money. You have to go out and meet with the people face to face,” she said. “It’s very easy to bring it across the country.”