Autism Awareness Centre Inc. Celebrates Ten Years of Service

This month marks Autism Awareness Centre’s 10th anniversary. Our past 10 years have been peppered with many memorable conferences, heartfelt letters, and projects all over the world. We’ve hosted 79 conferences since February 2004 – 9 in the UK and 70 all across Canada. AACI has hosted a conference in every province and the Northwest Territories. It’s been rewarding meeting hardworking, passionate people who are united by the collective effort in trying to improve the quality of life for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. What a privilege to visit other centres and schools, hear about programs that help those with ASD, watch the growth of existing organizations, and celebrate the birth of new ones.

I can remember where I was in when the company began in June 2003. My son Marc was 6 and Julia was 4, both diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. I was teaching music in the school system until I new the company was secure. Neither Marc nor Julia was toilet trained yet. Julia wasn’t speaking, attended an afternoon preschool with an aide and had an at-home therapy program in the morning. Marc had a few sentences and attended grade 1 at a school nearby but he wasn’t integrated into the inclusive classroom. Neither child slept through the night; you couldn’t leave them unsupervised for a moment or there would be trouble.

A decade later, Marc is now in high school and is an excellent student. He is a hardworking, pleasant young man who can’t wait to get to school each day. He makes gains towards independence every month. For the third summer in a row, he’ll be volunteering at a local Farmer’s Market. Marc enjoys reading, swimming, biking, computers, Wii Fitness, bowling, and travelling. He is even trying new foods for the first time! Julia speaks  well, loves cooking, photography, travel and is integrated with her classmates for most of the school day. She’ll be moving into a more independent classroom setting for high school in another year. Ten years ago, I would not have thought any of this was possible for my children.

I am sharing these personal reflections to inspire and encourage those of you who are just starting the ASD journey. In the beginning, it seems like nothing will work and things won’t improve, but they do. And we can go on to have rich, fulfilling lives even if they don’t look like everyone else’s. Marriages can survive and thrive – my husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary next month. You can develop new interests and meet people whom you wouldn’t have if not for autism.

Building Autism Awareness Centre has been a labour of love, something that stemmed from a personal passion for the subject of autism. I love sharing any knowledge I discover about ASD. The Centre’s bookstore was created to provide educational support. When the company first started , there were 90 book titles in our bookstore. Today there are almost  700 titles and the collection continues to expand monthly. I spend a great deal of time researching new books, reviewing them, writing book reviews for publishers, and helping authors bring their new works to an enthusiastic readership. Many of our conference speakers are wonderful authors as well. We added a Francophone books section 8 years ago. What a joy to be able to recommend great books to parents and professionals and know they have solid information. Displaying the bookstore at other organizations’ conferences has been enriching to Autism Awareness Centre. Hearing new speakers, learning about other services, and being introduced to a new community has made a positive impact on us.

Our Facebook page is getting close to 1000 “likes”. I post something interesting every other day on the Facebook page – research, news, new books, helpful tips, and viewpoints from those on the spectrum. It’s a great way to keep in touch with what’s current and relevant in the world of ASD.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we’ve given our website a new facelift. You’ll find the functionality of our website has improved and it’s now compatible with all mobile devices like tablets and iPhones. Ordering and registering for conferences has never been easier. It is my goal to add new articles every week to keep the site exciting and dynamic.

One of our proudest moments was being awarded the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists Provincial/Territorial Award in 2011. Given by the Society of Alberta Occupational Therapists, this award acknowledges the contributions and accomplishments of Autism Awareness Centre to the health and well-being of Canadians. A special thanks to our conference speakers who over the years have helped us raise awareness of issues that individuals on the autism spectrum face and how occupational therapy addresses those concerns.

I have learned a great deal from our conference speakers, professionals who have attended the conferences and contacted the Centre, parents who’ve shared their experiences, but most of all from the individuals who have autism. I’ve worked with Temple Grandin several times in Canada and the UK. John Simpson, one of my UK speakers and friend with Asperger Syndrome, has taught me how to be a better parent and given me much to think about in order to help my children be successful in adulthood. Talented artist Kaitrin Beechey has displayed at our conferences and was recently featured on the cover of our 2013 Book Catalogue. Judy Endow has introduced me to a whole new perspective on autism. (She’ll be speaking for us again in Ottawa, ON and Calgary, AB this season.)

One of the top highlights of the conferences has been the lasting friendships I have formed with our delegates across Canada and the UK. Every place I go, my eager group of volunteers rally to make sure the word gets out about the conference and they are there on site any time of the day or night to assist in the smooth running of the conference. There are too many of you to mention who’ve given your time, talents, and support – but you know who you are. Just when I feel like quitting, one of you calls or sends and e-mail which inspires me to go on.

I also want to say a special thanks to my web designer, Jerry Arsenault of Qualia Collective, who has been with me since the early days of AACI. He has created the look of Autism Awareness Centre and educated me about websites. It was, and still is at times, a steep learning curve for someone like me who has no training in technology. He’s kept my enthusiasm high through his dedication to the work and vision of AACI.

Thank you, too, to my trustworthy assistant, Jeannette D’Abadie, who keeps me organized each week. She makes me laugh at myself and never lets me give up no matter how bleak things look. Jeannette is an eternal optimist. There’s nothing she won’t do for AACI and her innovative ideas have kept the company moving towards greater efficiency.

I hope to be in service to my autism community for many more years. What an unexpected gift entering the world of autism has been. I never dreamed such adventures were possible when I left my music career. Every week is different, each conference a new frontier, and the knowledge so many of you introduced me to has improved the quality of life for my children and many others. Thank you for 10 wonderful years! Have a safe and restful summer.

Sincerely,

Maureen Bennie
Director

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Editorial Policy: Autism Awareness Centre believes that education is the key to success in assisting individuals who have autism and related disorders. Autism Awareness Centre’s mission is to ensure our extensive autism resource selection features the newest titles available in North America. Note that the information contained on this web site should not be used as a substitute for medical care and advice.

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3 Comments Moderation Policy

  1. Pranav says:

    Hello Maureen – Sure it is encouraging to read your story. Was glad to see that there is a light at end of the dark tunnel. Bit nervous – as my son will start his IBI on July 2 2013. He is 6 years old. 🙂

  2. Teresa says:

    Few people have the courage and the conviction to make their dreams a reality. Maureen, in creating AACI, you have done just that. You have given the gift of knowledge and insight to so many. ‘Knowledge is power’ and your conferences, blogs and bookstore empower us to unlock human potential. There is no better gift. Thank you.

  3. Shirley says:

    Maureen – that is a wonderful testament and I’m so proud to be a part of what you do.!!  Read on!!!we all learn from you.

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