“Once in awhile you have an idea that just won’t let go,” says Ausome Ottawa founder Derek Firth, “and you have to act on it.”
That’s what happened when Derek and his wife Liisa Vexler talked about creating an organization that would provide sports programs for local kids with autism. The plan took shape when the couple discussed how sports have had a positive impact on both of their active, athletic sons, one of whom has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
It is estimated one in 67 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. As these parents point out, many children with ASD are not capable of functioning in a mainstream sports program. They may be unable to deal with the sensory input of the surroundings, such as the noise of 20 bouncing balls, the glare of fluorescent lights or the non-stop movement in a gym full of people. Sometimes, the stress or frustration of a sport may trigger challenging behaviours that require a trained adult’s assistance. These factors and others are considerations as Ausome Ottawa develops its programs, all of which will be free for participant families. After all, as Derek and Liisa know well, parents are often financially stressed by the cost of private therapies that can be in the tens of thousands of dollars per year.
“Since we announced our launch early in October, we have been overwhelmed by the response,” says Liisa. “It’s something that everyone, no matter their family situation, can be a part of. If you love sports or if you simply see the value of sport and physical activity, you know that this matters. If you know a child on the spectrum—and almost everyone does— you know this matters.”
To date, Ausome Ottawa has signed on two program partners, Capital Courts Basketball Training Center and Nepean Corona School of Gymnastics. It is also in talks with karate, tae kwon do and soccer schools. The first event, a basketball workshop, will take place at Capital Courts in January, with a gymnastics event to follow soon after. While these one-day events are a good start, the Ausome Ottawa team has a larger vision and intends to provide six-to-eight-week programs beginning in the fall of 2016. From there, the hope is to expand to arts and social programs for kids and teens with autism, their siblings and their families.
“Including the siblings and other family members is key to creating a community,” says Derek. “There is a positive effect on emotional health and quality of life.”
Parent participation will not be required for Ausome programs, as a means of providing respite and bonding among parents of kids on the spectrum.
How you can help
Awareness and fundraising initiatives are underway, including sales of Ausome Bracelets. They make great holiday gifts, Liisa points out. Anchored with a metal heart, these delicate bracelets are made of black rope studded with silver-coloured metal beads interspersed with crystals. Suitable for wrists of many sizes, they’re priced at $15 or two for $25. All proceeds go directly to Ausome Ottawa. To purchase bracelets or get details, see www.ausomeottawa.com. You can also follow Ausome Ottawa on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ausomeottawa and on Twitter at @ausome_ottawa.