At this time of year, like me, many Kitchissippi parents are neck deep in shuttling kids to and from rinks, gyms, pools, and dance studios. We may be gearing up for a winter on the slopes or on the trails, or thinking about what activities will keep our kids active on the long cold winter days.
For many families in our community, the struggle to keep kids active and occupied is amplified exponentially because they are living with autism. In fact, if our community is a representative sample of the rest of the country, about 1 in 67 of our children falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. That means many of your neighbours have children with autism, and you may not even know it. In many cases, like my own son’s, there are no obvious signs of a neurological difference.
While some kids with autism spectrum disorders (or ASDs) can participate in mainstream sports programs, many cannot. Not only are these programs often not appropriate for kids on the spectrum, but they are costly. Families with one or more kids on the autism spectrum are financially stretched due to the tens of thousands of dollars they spend annually on private therapy, most of which is not readily available through publicly funded programs.
Both of my children participate in organized sports, and the benefits are obvious. They learn life skills like responsibility, resilience and teamwork, they build self-esteem and leadership skills, they derive health benefits from building muscular, athletic bodies, and they make deep and lasting friendships. Like most children on the autism spectrum, our son suffers from anxiety. Research has shown, and we can anecdotally confirm, that physical activity has a remarkable effect on reducing this anxiety.
None of this would be possible without sport.
This is devastating to many families whose children find aspects of existing sports programs challenging. In many cases, the sensory inputs in a noisy gym or arena are too much. In other cases, the frustrations of a game situation may be too intense or anxiety provoking. Some children lack the gross motor skills of their peers, while others may find one aspect of a program so fascinating that the rest of what is going on just fades away.
In order to change this, we have created an organization called Ausome Ottawa. Our aim is to allow families living with autism to share the joy of sports. We believe that when everyone can participate – and we plan to include siblings in some of our programs – the quality of life improves for the whole family. To provide this, we must break down financial and programming barriers. Our programs will be offered at no cost to participants and will be tailored to meet individual needs.
Our website has been live for just under a month and we have received hundreds of inquiries from potential participants and supportive community members. Not only are we putting together for a specific group of individuals, we are creating a dynamic community of innovative donors, volunteers, sponsors and participants.
On November 28th, we are hosting a Launch Party and Silent Auction to raise funds for our first few programs, which will be offered in early 2016. Many Kitchissippi businesses have donated items for the silent auction and we expect many residents to be in attendance. We are also excited about a beautiful and profitable fundraiser, the sale through AusomeOttawa.com of The Ausome Bracelet and The Ausome Necklace. Each set of these fashionable, wearable items funds an hour of sport for a child.
And we want you to get involved in Ausome Ottawa too! We are building an energetic community. Not only do we aim to serve our families, but we have created an entrepreneurial organization where action and innovation are valued and community members learn from each other. We are passionate about this project and the positive impact it will have on our community. If you believe in sport and its impact on quality of life, we want you.
How can you help today?
- Get a ticket for the November 28th Launch Party & Silent Auction.
- Sponsor an hour or two of sport for a child with autism.
- Donate an item for the silent auction.
- Give the Ausome Bracelet and the Ausome Necklace as holiday gifts.
- Share this info with a couple of friends and follow Ausome Ottawa on Facebook or Twitter @ausome_ottawa.
Liisa Vexler and Derek Firth