When Annie arrived at the Centre for Autism Services Alberta, she was terrified. At only five years old, afraid of loud noises and unable to interact with people who were not familiar to her, Annie and her family faced what might seem to be an insurmountable challenge. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, which may include unusual sensory responses or sensitivities and preoccupation behaviours. For Annie, a trip to the park, mall, or zoo would simply be too overwhelming. The sound of transit buses, crowds, or traffic sent her rushing into her mother’s arms.

Annie rarely left her mother’s side, and her family was prevented from taking her out into the community for fear that she would get upset in environments that they could not control. While Annie’s Mom offered protection and support for Annie, she was also unintentionally interfering with her daughter’s ability to experience all that life had to offer. Annie’s mother had no idea what to do as it seemed that she was the only person who Annie could learn from.

Qualified and caring staff at the Centre spent time getting to know Annie and her family, understanding her specific triggers and ways of interpreting the world around her. We learned that she liked nail polish and would allow interaction without her mother present simply for the opportunity to have her nails painted in bright colors and sparkles.

During weekly sessions, Annie slowly learned that trusting and interacting with others could make her life better.

Annie began to welcome opportunities to play and learn from our team of autism professionals. She became much more attentive and willing to learn from others. Our dedicated team of psychologists, educators, behavioural and occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists taught her new ways to communicate her wants and needs.

Annie’s family learned that despite autism and anxiety, she could learn to cope with stressors. Encouraged, the family began to expose Annie to new experiences, letting go of their own fears and having new confidence in Annie’s ability to handle situations in better ways.

Annie’s family continues to create opportunities for Annie to practice new skills learned at ongoing weekly sessions. Armed with new understanding and practical skills, Annie’s family no longer feels helpless. They have become strong advocates for Annie, sharing with others what they have learned and practiced, as the help Annie to enjoy and thrive in all aspects of her life. There is still more for Annie and her family to learn. Annie is now in an inclusive grade one classroom and is starting to communicate in short sentences. “We’ll get there,” offers Annie’s Mother, when she talks of making trips to the neighbourhood park as an important next step for Annie.