Two years ago, Nathan and Lissa Best sold their house in Prince Edward Island, packed what they could in the trunk of a Jetta, and moved their four kids to Whitehorse, Yukon.

“It was terrifying at the time,” says Nathan.

Three of the couple’s children lie somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Nathan, an on-call paramedic and firefighter, describes Abida, 11, and Hans, 9, as high-functioning, but facing social and educational difficulties. Within the family, five-year-old Danielle is the lowest on the spectrum. “She communicates in squirts and squeals,” Nathan says. “No words at all. Not potty trained.”

Today, Nathan calls the decision to head north “incredibly good.”

“I have met more than one or two families that have moved here for the same reasons that we have... for the amount of programs that there are for children and people with disabilities.“

Nathan and Lissa Best

Nathan and Lissa Best and their youngest daughter, Danielle.

The Bests made the move after researching the best places in Canada to get support for children with autism, that didn’t involve living in a big city. “One of the things they do that’s socially inappropriate is run away from us. In a big city, that would be terrifying.”

That ruled out Alberta, which Best says also has strong programming for autism children, highly concentrated in Calgary and Edmonton.

They have no regrets about choosing Whitehorse, where they’ve been able to access therapists and educational assistants to help their children learn and develop.

“The care we receive is better and quicker. In two years we’ve received more firm diagnoses, more direct help, more behavioural assistance than we received in the first eight years of Abida’s life in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.”

Rising to the challenge

Autism is a brain development disorder that’s still poorly understood. Parenting can be intense and demanding, and you can't always count on the support you might need.

For Lissa, it’s a challenge.

“People look at our children, they physically look typical, and then when they don't behave get that sort of, 'Oh my, are you going to take care of your child? They're misbehaving.' And you're kind of like, ‘Well, that's the challenge, they're not typical kids.’"  

Nathan admits that the responsibilities can be overwhelming, but it is possible.

“I think that every person from somewhere is given the strength they need to deal with whatever is put in front of them. So anyone out there that thinks like they’re alone in this? They’re not. There are lots of us. There is a community that will always help, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.”

Autism seems to be on the rise. The US Centre for Disease Control says there's been a tenfold increase in prevalence, over the last four decades.

Nathan hopes that will increase awareness of the challenges faced by families like his.

“It takes a lot of time to teach simple social behaviours and if we as a population can be very tolerant of those children, it will help them, and it will help the parents of those children.”

Lissa puts it simply: “You find the joy too. You have the challenges, but you can find the joy too.”