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Autism is a neurobiological disorder with a shared core of symptoms that include early signs of impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Did you know that 1 in 94 children are diagnosed with autism in Canada and boys are four times more likely than girls to have the disorder?

Autism comes with a wide range of different spectrums disorders and a large degree of variation in the way it can affect an individual. Since the level of disability and syndromes can vary tremendously in each person, two children diagnosed with the same disorder can often look and act completely different. Parents that educate themselves will have a better understanding of their child’s needs and be able to communicate more effectively with doctors, teachers and therapists. When families focus on appropriate treatments that cater specifically to their child needs, as opposed to emphasizing the challenges, it can drive positive results.

Autism In Mind (AIM) Children’s Charity was founded in 2011 by Suki Choi who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with the disorder. Aspiring to bring communities together to accept, understand and support children with autism, Suki’s goal is to educate the public about the real struggles of children living with autism.

A child who begins treatment and therapy programs early on reaps the benefits of strengthening their communication and social skills. Starting the preliminary programs before grade school is recommended but can be financially challenging for parents and families. Though government assistance and financial aid are available, the approval process can take years to finalize.

Two programs have become the main pillars for AIM, the Saturday Social Skills Program and Intensive Behavior Intervention (IBI) Therapy Program.

These programs help build preliminary bridges to a child’s communication and social skills. They assist a child beginning grade school and provide stability when the program continues afterwards. AIM’s committee of parents has created a community for families to gather, network and support each other during this process. A monthly newsletter lists upcoming events and includes helpful articles with tips that provide support.

Saturday Social Skills Program

This program provides optimal growth through meaningful experiences in a low ratio, supported social setting. Program facilitators set goals for each child based on their developmental level Independent functioning is fostered, educating the children with necessary skills and resources to participant in daily life and school interaction. The program runs Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, with a pre-approved quarterly registration commitment from the family.

IBI Therapy Program

AIM’s Intensive Behavior Intervention Therapy Program utilizes applied behavior analysis and is facilitated by qualified instructors in a one-to-one setting. ‘Applied’ means to practice rather than research and ‘behavior analysis’ refers to ‘learning theory.’ This provides the right conditions for children as the excesses and deficits of autism result largely from a learning blockage remedied by intensive teaching. Children with autism are encouraged to start this as early as possible to prepare for integration into their schools and communities. The program is available to families with financial challenges that meet the eligibility requirements. Curriculums are spearheaded by volunteers and the program is subsidized by generous donors, corporate grants and fundraising events.

The Masquerade Ball Gala 2015

AIM’s annual fundraising gala is the most anticipated celebration for the charity. At Masquerade Ball Gala 2015 on Nov. 8 at Le Parc Banquet Hall, guests arrived in lavish masks, gowns and tuxedos. The evening featured a three-course meal, open bar, dancing, entertainment, raffles and silent auctions.

Top sponsors included TD Bank Group and Eva Air. Culture Magazin, a proud media sponsor, is already planning to collaborate on future events.

Educational booths at the front reception provided informative literature and pictures while volunteers answered questions. Guests tested gadgets at one booth that simulated autistic experiences – sunglasses demonstrated visual problems, while a glove replicated hypersensitive touch. Visual symptoms of autism can include lack of eye contact, staring at spinning objects or light, fleeting peripheral glances, and side viewing. Some people with autism are easily over-stimulated by touch. They are always moving and wiggling and avoid contact with specific textures.

The gala was an opportunity for families and guest speakers to share stories of their journey and the wonderful experiences gained through AIM’s programs. A slide show featured the happy smiles of children and their parents. Attendees were passionate in their support of the charity and shared their concerns but the atmosphere was also light and joyful.

At the end, the message was clear. With unconditional love, patience and and support from a community that understands an autistic child’s development and growth, the child will have the right conditions to be free and happy. Advocates are the light that guides them through the dark tunnels and allow great things to manifest.