Although autism awareness has increased in northern New Brunswick, it still has a long way to go, says a British expert who has a personal connection to the area.
Kevin Baskerville is a consultant with 20 years of experience working with individuals with autism, a neurological disorder that includes a wide range of symptoms including ritualistic physical activity, social impairment and communication deficits.
Baskerville is offering a workshop for professionals and parents of autistic children at the Chaleur Autism and Asperger Family Centre in Bathurst this week.
'If children in schools can be friends to, and understand a little bit more about, autism ... that fundamentally could make a huge difference' - Kevin Baskerville
"Some families that I've met, particularly here in northern New Brunswick, are feeling uncomfortable about going out with their children, going out into the community and what people might say or what people might think," said Baskerville.
"And that's something we've really got to change and really let people feel comfortable taking their kids out, comfortable in terms of they're not going to be judged."
His New Brunswick connection has brought him here many times in the last few years.
Networking for parents
“My wife is from the Miramichi, so it's my second home now that we've moved back to England. Coming back to New Brunswick, we come back as often as we can. And so while I'm over here, I've been doing some training across northern New Brunswick particularly,” Baskerville said.
Since Baskerville started practising, diagnosis rates have soared.
But barriers still exist for people on the autism spectrum.
Based on years of training, outreach and personal experience, Baskerville's work focuses on social interactions and community.
Our understanding about autism can improve, simply by being a friend, said Baskerville.
"If children in schools can be friends to, and understand a little bit more about autism, and how to be a friend of and to talk to their teachers and to talk to their parents about how that could work, look online about how they could be a friend to a child with autism, that fundamentally could make a huge difference," he said.
For parents and immediate family, the workshop offers a chance to network.
Michelle McNeil's eldest son has Asperger syndrome. She says it takes a village to raise him to be healthy and happy.
"Everything from occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, psychologist, obviously a pediatrician. So there's a lot of different people involved," said McNeil.