Autism chair encourages families to seek available support
© Geraldine Brophy
Karen Flynn of the Autism Society Newfoundland and Labrador Western Board talks about her autistic son Ethan at a town hall meeting at the College of the North Atlantic on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013.
CORNER BROOK — Karen Flynn wants to ensure parents don’t lose sight of the time they first discovered their child was diagnosed with autism.
Speaking at a town hall meeting Sunday, the Western Region Chapter of the Autism Society chairperson said parents need to remember that first diagnosis and the experience gained from it to help with any struggles that may arise.
“That’s where you get the guidance, that’s when you know that somebody has gone through this experience before and can help you out in that respect,” Flynn told the more than a dozen in attendance.
Flynn became an active advocate for autism following the diagnosis of her son Ethan almost five years ago at the age of three, and shared her personal story of struggle to find answers with those affected.
It was not an easy road for Flynn and her family upon discovering that Ethan was diagnosed, as there was no autism assessment team available on the west coast at that time, which left them having to travel to St. John’s for answers.
While Sunday’s town hall was meant to provide a forum to discuss issues around autism, the number in attendance at the event at Corner Brook’s College of the North Atlantic was not as high as expected.
The most obvious reason, said Flynn, is due to the expansion the western region has undergone, as support groups have spread outside of Corner Brook and are beginning to form in Deer Lake and Stephenville.
“What happens when you spread out (is that) numbers fall because you’re not all together anymore,” she said.
The number of autism diagnosis, however, has grown so much over the past five years — since her son was diagnosed — that the demand for an assessment team eventually reached its peak and the west coast was granted one.
Flynn says it comes down to reaching out to those in need to connect with the society, get their questions answered, help them solve the puzzle and connect thepieces so they don’t feel so stressed.
The suggestion made Sunday of offering more sessions based on reaching out to parents with children newly diagnosed with autism generated much discussion among members and it’s an issue which will be brought back to the board of directors.
“We will probably now look at shaping our family and support suggestions a little differently in the coming months,” said Flynn.
Another obstacle the membership made clear during the meeting was a need for better accessibility to the services offered through the Autism Society.
It was suggested by Kelli Lannon, regional program co-ordinator, the membership needs to better collaborate with the College of the North Atlantic to integrate the students from the early childhood education program into their efforts to make programs more accessible.
Flynn encourages families impacted by autism to reach out and grasp the service that is provided through the Western Region Chapter of the Autism Society